Three months ago, Psychology Today blogger Susan Krauss Whitbourne posted an essay entitled The Rarely Told Story of Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment. I eagerly read it in the hope that it would reveal some heretofore relatively unknown truth about this famous experiment. But, in fact, the essay is simply a summary--a well written one--of the experiment that takes at face value Phillip Zimbardo’s and his colleagues’ conclusions. In the introduction to the essay, Whitbourne states that the experiment is “Depicted in movies, television and of course all introductory psych textbooks…” It’s true that Zimbardo’s experiment is one of the two or three most famous experiments in the history of psychology. But it’s not true that it’s depicted in all introductory psychology textbooks. I’m the author of one such textbook (which is now in it’s 6th edition and is used in many colleges and universities). One of the questions I’m frequently asked about the book by professors who teach from it is, “Why don’t you include Zimbardo’s prison experiment, like all other textbook authors do?”Here’s why, the results of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment have a trivial explanation. See also, The lie of the Stanford Prison Experiment
Contesting the “Nature” Of Conformity: What Milgram and Zimbardo's Studies Really Show [FULL TEXT]Stanford Prison Experiment Previously
Understanding of the psychology of tyranny is dominated by classic studies from the 1960s and 1970s: Milgram's research on obedience to authority and Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment. Supporting popular notions of the banality of evil, this research has been taken to show that people conform passively and unthinkingly to both the instructions and the roles that authorities provide, however malevolent these may be. Recently, though, this consensus has been challenged by empirical work informed by social identity theorizing. This suggests that individuals' willingness to follow authorities is conditional on identification with the authority in question and an associated belief that the authority is right.
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