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Power of the Situation (cont.). Stanford Prison Experiment. The Power of the Situation. Last time we learned about how social conditions affect human behavior, thoughts, and feelings

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Power of the Situation (cont.)

Stanford Prison Experiment

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The Power of the Situation

  • Last time we learned about how social conditions affect human behavior, thoughts, and feelings

  • Social influence and obedience affected how people responded to the Asch “line experiment” and the Milgram “obedience study”

  • Today we will discuss *why* the situation can influence us by learning about the “Stanford Prison Experiment”

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Stanford Prison Experiment:some background information

  • Conducted in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo and others in the basement of the Stanford Psychology Department.

  • Volunteers were randomly assigned to play the role of guards and prisoners in a mock prison in the basement.

  • Both prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their assigned roles, and lead to genuinely dangerous and psychologically damaging situations

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Stanford Prison Experiment

  • Video about the experiment


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Stanford Prison Experiment:What would you have done?

  • If you were a prisoner, how would you have acted?

  • If you were a guard, how would you have acted?

  • After the study, how do you think the prisoners and guards felt when they saw each other in the same civilian clothes again?

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Stanford Prison Experiment:What happened next?

  • Prisoner #416, who broke down within 36 hours, got a clinical psychology Ph.D., did his internship in a California prison, and became a forensic psychologist in the San Francisco County Jail.

  • "John Wayne“ is now a mild-mannered real estate broker.

  • Zimbardo recently retired from Stanford after a long career in social psychology.

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Stanford Prison Experiment:Criticisms of the experiment

  • Unethical

  • Unscientific

    • No scientific controls because it was a field experiment

    • Small sample size of 24, but really just 1 group so N=1

    • Conclusions and observations were anecdotal

  • Participants acted how they were expected to behave

    • Zimbardo gave guards no rules, said they could “create fear”

    • Zimbardo admitted he was not a neutral observer but acted like a “superintendent” who enabled the bad behavior

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Stanford Prison Experiment:A replication?

  • In 2002 two psychologists from England conducted a partial replication with the assistance of the BBC who broadcast scenes from the study as a reality TV program called The Experiment.

  • Their results and conclusions were very different from Zimbardo's

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BBC “The Experiment

  • How was it similar to Zimbardo’s study?

    • Randomly selected volunteers assigned to “guards” and “prisoners”

    • Mock prison created in the George Lucas soundstage in London.

    • End early (ended two days earlier than planned)

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BBC “The Experiment”

  • How did it differ from Zimbardo’s study?

    • Psychologists only observers, not involved

    • “Guards” were given guidelines and instructions

  • Very different results

    • Guards were not sadistic or abusive, made peace with prisoners

    • Some guards were “repelled” by the situation, two left in “disgust”

  • What does this imply about Zimbardo study?

  • What does this imply about human nature?

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Abu Ghraib prison

  • What do these experiments tell us about what happened at Abu Ghraib prison?

  • Did the power of the situation influence the guards?

  • Were there other factors involved?