Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971, the American psychologist Philip Zimbardo put an experiment, which was called the Stanford Prison Experiment. The scientist tried to understand the nature of the conflicts that arise in prisons between guards and prisoners. 24 people were selected for participation in the experiment - each of them got one of two possible roles. In the course of the study, the “game” process went to prison out of control: several participants had to be removed ahead of time due to a difficult moral state.
A request for research of this kind came from representatives of the US Navy, who were concerned about the situation in the Marine Correctional Institutions, where there were frequent clashes between prisoners and security guards. According to one of the popular theories, the cause of such conflicts is nature itself and the "mentality" of those who are on one side or the other of the lattice. And if in this theory, guards are represented by people with sadistic inclinations who consciously choose work, where force can be used, then criminals are individuals in whom there is no respect for law and authority, and their antisocial behavior tends to initiate conflicts.
Philip Zimbardo, who was a professor at Stanford University, who conducted research for the Navy, put forward the hypothesis that conflicts between guards and prisoners arise not because of the “flawed” nature of those and others, but as a result of following specific social roles. It is assumed that the convicted criminal in his role should rebel against the prison guards, and the taskmaster should use brute force to suppress any disobedience. To confirm or refute this hypothesis, Zimbardo decided to recruit volunteers, dividing them equally into prisoners and guards, and put them in a “prison”, which was served by one of the university corridors.

Announcement of recruitment. (

To begin with, it was necessary to select participants. 75 people responded to an ad in the newspaper about recruiting a group of test subjects. Each of them filled out a form, where he told about his family history, physical and mental health, problems with the law, if any. As a result of the selection of the 75 applicants left 24 men. All of them were recognized as emotionally stable, mature, with no signs of antisocial behavior, were in good physical shape, belonged to the middle class. In addition, all participants were white. Before the experiment, they were not familiar with each other. For participation in the project, each of them had to pay $ 15 a day, and the duration of the "conclusion" could last up to two weeks.
The second stage in the preparation of the study was the conversion of the wing of the university into a “prison”. The room was divided in such a way that it turned out three small cells, each of which was designed for three prisoners, one tiny single-sized cell that was located opposite the main ones, as well as several rooms for security guards where they could change clothes and relax, and a corner for guard, ”whose role was played by a laboratory assistant, and the“ warden ”in the person of Zimbardo himself. The room was stuffed with cameras and listening devices, so that scientists could observe the course of the experiment around the clock. The wire was in all the rooms.
The division into 2 teams took place by lot. Of the 12 people in each "camp" actively participated 9, three more were in the position of spare.
The “Guards” were given khaki uniforms, a whistle, and glasses with very dark glasses to eliminate the possibility of eye contact with the “prisoners”, as well as a rubber truncheon. However, the rules forbade any physical abuse, and all these attributes relied more on the role.
The prisoners were dressed in loose shirts made of muslin, each of which had a prisoner number sewn on, was given rubber shoes, a nylon cap (its purpose is to hide a haircut, an analogue of shaving in real prisons), a hygiene kit, a towel and bed linen. Each of them had a chain with a lock attached to the right ankle, which could not be removed. It was forbidden to have personal items. A patch with a personal number, a robe and the disguise of an individual style — all this was done in order to impersonate the person as much as possible, to bring the experimental conditions closer to those in which convicts are held.

The organization of the "prison" space. (

A meeting was held with the guards the day before the experiment began, where they were explained the rules, the scope of their authority and the task of maintaining order, thereby ensuring the normal functioning of the prison. In addition, Zimbardo outlined a certain behavior strategy for the guards: he noted that they were to "create a sense of depression, arbitrariness and arbitrariness among the prisoners" so that they could feel their helplessness before the power of the guards and the system. The team of guards was confident that the main purpose of the experiment was to monitor the behavior of prisoners, while no one would look closely at them. Each of them worked in shifts: three people per shift. The duration of the working day is 8 hours.
Prisoners who were confident that the experiment would begin on Sunday, the day before, that is, on Saturday, were unexpectedly arrested by real police. Everything was carried out as realistically as possible: each of them was detained on suspicion of any not too serious offense, while not mentioning the connection at all with the experiment, put on handcuffs, searched, taken to the station and interrogated, fingerprinted. all of those arrested were taken to prison. All this performance with the participation of the present law enforcement officers was necessary for the test subjects to truly feel themselves as criminals. Upon arrival at the prison, each of them was stripped, treated with a deodorizing spray.
On the very first night, the prisoners were taken up for check. At first it was necessary to give all participants to get used to the experiment and their roles. The first check lasted no more than 10 minutes, and was more like a friendly and awkward exchange of courtesies between guards and prisoners.
According to the rules, the prisoners were supposed to have three meals a day, three trips to the toilet and two free hours a day to read or write letters. The arrested had to perform certain prison work, as well as do exercises and three times a day to line up for inspection. Twice a week there were “dates” with relatives and friends.

The real detention of one of the participants. (

Events developed rapidly: after a quiet first day, a riot broke out the very next morning. The prisoners showed disregard for the rules: they tore off stripes with a personal number, removed the caps, blocked the doors of the cameras with mattresses and loudly discussed the personalities of the guards. The morning shift decided that their “colleagues” had not shown sufficient rigor the day before. The uprising was suppressed using fire extinguishers. The order was restored, and the instigator was put in a solitary cell. At the same time, the three least active participants in the rebellion were transplanted into a “special” cell with privileged conditions. Unlike the other six prisoners, they returned the mattresses and clothes, they were allowed to brush their teeth and wash and gave a large portion of food, leaving the other rebels without food.
The guards deliberately tried to "split" the team, giving the participants unequal conditions of detention. Feeding and leisure hours set by the “law” became the bonuses that could be obtained for good behavior. At the same time, the instigators of the rebellion tried to humiliate in every possible way, forcing him to beg permission from the guards, say, to smoke. The effect was incredibly powerful: just 36 hours after the start of the experiment, the test subject experienced something like a tantrum, with tears and flashes of rage. He had to be withdrawn from the project, as the tension could turn out to be too strong.
The next day, a scheduled meeting with family and friends took place - many parents of the experiment participants were shocked by the emotional state of their sons, who looked extremely depressed and exhausted, despite the fact that only two days had passed. After meetings with relatives, a “movement” began: one of the guards allegedly heard prisoners talking about how the liberated rebel leader should return with his friends and organize an escape. They even wanted to transfer the experiment to a real prison in order to ensure its continuation under the control of the police, but they refused to render assistance. In the evening, prisoners who were supposedly thinking of escaping were forced to scrub toilet bowls, push ups, squat and perform other unpleasant and difficult physical activities. Time checks increased from 10 minutes to several hours.

The chain on the leg of one of the "prisoners". (

The "rebel" who fell out of the project was replaced by a member of the substitute team. Once in the cell, he refused to obey the rules and went on a hunger strike. By his actions, he probably tried to provoke other prisoners to a new uprising, but they no longer found the strength to open confrontation. As a result, instead of becoming a leader, he found himself in the position of an outcast. Already in the evening he had a tantrum. Professor Zimbardo first tried to give the man a break by inviting him to the rest room and letting him remove the chain and the cap. However, the guards, whom the behavior of the prisoner enraged, forced the other prisoners to brand the cellmate as a “bad one”. The condition of the test subject was alarmingly unstable, moreover, he was physically weakened due to the hunger strike. As a result, another participant had to withdraw from the project.
The next day, the prisoners were offered a deal: they refuse the money and have the right to leave the project. Practically everyone agreed on these conditions, however, for the “pro forma” they had to file a petition for clemency, which would be considered by a special jury of psychology students. And although after refusing to receive payment, prisoners could safely leave the building, they all dutifully fulfilled the requirement to file a petition for clemency by going back to the cells. They were soon announced that none of the petitions had been approved. This provoked hysteria in half of the convicted team.

One of the prisoner's checks. (

By this time, the participants who played the role of guards, fully accustomed to the image. Many of them showed a truly sadistic inclinations, using the right to exercise power over prisoners. They behaved especially frivolously at night and when they took the wards out of the main “building” of the prison to the toilet, because they believed that at that time the project organizers were not watching them.
The experiment stopped after a visit to the "prison" of the bride, Dr. Zimbardo. The girl also worked as a teacher at Stanford. In her opinion, the conditions of the “prisoners” were cruel and inhuman, and the scientific interest in this case could not solve the ethical problem. In the end, Zimbardo was forced to admit that the verge of his was somewhat blurred - from an impartial observer, he gradually turned into a real prison warden, and more and more felt immersed in a new role.
As a result, the project had to be interrupted by the sixth day, although it was assumed that it would last about two weeks. The prisoners took the news with great enthusiasm, which is not the case with the guards who got used to the role and were disappointed that everything ended so quickly. Each of them conscientiously observed the time frame of shifts, no one shirked overtime and did not refuse to leave “due to illness”.

"Punishment" push-ups. (

All the guards could be divided into three types: some carried out their duties and mocked the prisoners with undisguised pleasure, others did it because “this is necessary” and “official duties”, the third gave the situation discomfort, they preferred to withdraw from punitive and derogatory policies However, they did not interfere with the "colleagues".
The conclusions of the experiment, as Zimbardo himself believed, proved the theory that he put forward that the behavior of guards and prisoners in prisons is not influenced by their personality and “background”, but the situation in which they fell, as well as the environment and social roles. Receiving "good" from representatives of the authorities, which in this case were the professors of Stanford, in fact, to humiliate and break the other person within their professional duties, the guards demonstrated their readiness to follow the rules of the game. At the same time, the participants from the prisoners quickly stopped resisting moral violence. The more a person was prone to passivity and dependence on the opinions of others, the less painful was the reaction to the conditions of imprisonment. Conversely, strong, creative and independent participants showed resistance and inability to adapt.
The scientific method of Zimbardo and the ethical side of the question caused a controversial assessment of the experiment in the scientific community. This project is often compared to Milgram's experience, where participants demonstrated a willingness to inflict severe physical pain on other people as part of their “official duties”.

Watch the video: The Stanford Prison Experiment (April 2020).