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The Lucifer Effect
March 9, 2007 8:34 PM   Subscribe

Retiring psychology professor Philip G. Zimbardo, who ran the Stanford Prison Experiment, gave his final lecture at Stanford this week, criticizing the Bush administration and saying that senior government officials responsible for Abu Ghraib should be "tried for the crimes against humanity." [Via MindHacks.]
posted by homunculus (38 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
(The Stanford Prison Experiment should not be confused with the Sanford Prison Experiment.)
posted by homunculus at 8:37 PM on March 9, 2007


Oh come on, Phil. It's not like your own record is that great. Say, how's your student wife?
posted by keswick at 8:50 PM on March 9, 2007


Oh come on, Phil. It's not like your own record is that great. Say, how's your student wife?

I don't really think marrying a student indicates the same level of depravity as, say, keeping an American citizen imprisoned and held in solitary confinement without trial for years.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


So if he married a student that invalidates his research?
posted by ao4047 at 9:01 PM on March 9, 2007


Anything to distract from the message.
posted by Malor at 9:02 PM on March 9, 2007


Where did I say marrying his student invalidated his research? It's just the icing on the cake. Jesus, you guys get dumber daily.
posted by keswick at 9:16 PM on March 9, 2007


Where did I say marrying his student invalidated his research?

Well, what exactly are you trying to say? He married a student, and therefore, what exactly?
posted by delmoi at 9:20 PM on March 9, 2007


Keswick snarks meaninglessly, cites wikipedia. Film at eleven.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:25 PM on March 9, 2007


It seems to me that Zimbardo never denied that he, too, got caught up in the sadistic frenzy the experiment produced. The conclusion that really stuck with me is that there is such a thing as an evil and corrupting place/situation, that it's not necessarily merely a matter of a few "bad apples."

Whatever the case, I've never been able to forget the experiment since becoming aware of it, and I can't help thinking of it whenever I hear of abuses of prisoners.
posted by treepour at 9:30 PM on March 9, 2007


re: marrying student; it depends on the temporal parameters.
posted by porpoise at 9:35 PM on March 9, 2007


Where did I say marrying his student invalidated his research? It's just the icing on the cake. Jesus, you guys get dumber daily.

Didn't I see you on TV the other day, calling Edwards a faggot?
posted by limon at 9:47 PM on March 9, 2007


Oh yeah, I remember the Sanford Porcelain Experiment! Good times.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:00 PM on March 9, 2007


The Stanford Prison Experiment is like a fable. It's got archetypal characters, some hubris, and a nice fun moral at the end. It can teach us a lot about the interplay of the person and situation, and as a result it will live on in intro social psych textbooks till the end of time. But was it good research? Hell no! Not only was it just about the most unethical social psychology experiment ever performed, but Zimbardo put himself in the experiment as the head "prison warden"!

And the guy's been milking this thing for all it's worth for 35 years now. Fitting, really, that the last lecture he'll ever give as an active professor is yet another tired rehashing of the same old ground.
posted by goingonit at 10:03 PM on March 9, 2007


Fitting, really, that the last lecture he'll ever give as an active professor is yet another tired rehashing of the same old ground.

And any resemblance to recent events like Abu Ghraib is, what, another fable?
posted by homunculus at 10:24 PM on March 9, 2007


That's the thing about fables: they ring true, sometimes a lot. And I actually agree, personally, with the main thrust of the experiment's conclusion (situational cues often overpower personal tendencies, even or especially when morality is concerned). But the point is, it takes more than being right to be a good (social) scientist. It takes things like repeatability, good data, and even ethics. And the Stanford Prison Experiment has none of those.

Honestly, I thought that after Freud, people recognized that single case studies involving the direct participation of the experimenter were not trustworthy. There are plenty of very well-done social psychology experiments that demonstrate the power of the situation: it was most of what social psychologists studied for decades. Milgram of course comes to mind first.

My point is not that Zimbardo is wrong about Abu Ghraib. My point is that if he's right, the reasons why have nothing to do with his experiment.
posted by goingonit at 10:37 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Abu Ghraib is, what, another fable?

Musta been those Torture Fairies.
Er, Demons.
Well, the architype of the Torture Fairy manifested into being and "Took Control" of these poor, helpless prison guards.

"It wasn't me, it was my animal instincts that made me make them wear underwear on their heads while I dragged them by their necks on dog leashes over the naked bodies of other prisoners through the barking dog lined corridors to the room where the unnamed CIA agent would get on with the "Real Torture", er extracting information vital to National Security...via electrodes and beatings..."

See... Since there was a real life experiment that shows that humans will NATURALLY GRAVITATE towards abuse of power, that gives people a convienent responsibility outting.

Will his condemnation of recent events ever out-do the impact he has shown (maybe proved) about human behavior?

My tongue salivates at the sound of the bell.
posted by Balisong at 10:45 PM on March 9, 2007


Good to have strict guidlines and methods for experiments.

Isn't it.
posted by unklspot at 10:45 PM on March 9, 2007


"I don't really think marrying a student indicates the same level of depravity as, say, keeping an American citizen imprisoned and held in solitary confinement without trial for years." - posted by delmoi

Depends on where you went to college.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:45 PM on March 9, 2007


Also, you can only eat Schrodinger's Cat if you open the box and it's still alive. After it dies from the poison gas, it makes the meat taste funny.
posted by Balisong at 10:51 PM on March 9, 2007


Where did I say marrying his student invalidated his research?

You brought it up, you idiot, in the sneering sort of manner that indicates you meant it to be a negative. But I suppose, if you were smart or honest, you wouldn't be a "conservative".
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:52 PM on March 9, 2007


Well, I'll always have a warm spot for him as the Carl Sagan of psychology due to his role in hosting Discovering Psychology. And while he wigs me out to no end, I think his shyness research has helped a lot of people, if only by making shyness a legit thing to research in the first place.

His insight about how shyness is like being the "prisoner and warden... of your own mind!" is one of those things, like the Be Sharps, that's witty initially and gets progressively less so the more you think about it.
posted by Skwirl at 10:52 PM on March 9, 2007


Whatever your views on Zimbardo, it's not like the conclusions suggested by this experiment are unique. There are swacks of social psychological experiments suggesting that a person's virtuous and vicious traits can vary wildly from situation to situation. The Milgram experiment (in which a test subject is prodded by an experimenter to keep administering electric shocks to another subject) is a good example of a repeatable test in which it looks like you can use authority to make normally good people do bad things. This is a hot topic in the intersection between cognitive science and ethics right now.
posted by painquale at 12:46 AM on March 10, 2007


And I actually agree, personally, with the main thrust of the experiment's conclusion (situational cues often overpower personal tendencies, even or especially when morality is concerned). But the point is, it takes more than being right to be a good (social) scientist. It takes things like repeatability, good data, and even ethics. And the Stanford Prison Experiment has none of those.

goingonit - I agree completely.

As other posters have pointed out, other psychologists have performed better experiments that produced similar results - so why not listen to them rather than Zimbardo, who seems to have more of a talent for self promotion and catchy media soundbites than rigorous psychological experiments?
posted by backOfYourMind at 5:01 AM on March 10, 2007


From Wikipedia

Zimbardo is working on a book about the connection between Abu Ghraib and the prison experiments for a popular audience.

So at the risk of being cynical, a professer who apparently officially retired in 2003 gives a controversial 'final' speech four years later about the one half-smart idea he had 35 years ago to plug his new book.

I'm certainly not defending anything that happened at Abu Ghraib or disputing the idea that "you can use authority to make normally good people do bad things" - but I think that Zimbardo's experiment was poorly conducted and that his final speech is designed largely to shift some product.
posted by backOfYourMind at 5:10 AM on March 10, 2007


But I think that Zimbardo's experiment was poorly conducted

That's a valid point, but it is pretty meaningless without writing an explanation of how you would have done it and how.

his final speech is designed largely to shift some product.

Could be, what I don't understand is why one shouldn't use a final speech as an advertising platform for a book.

Say that I discovered X and wanted to let people know I also wrote a book on X , but I can't afford a marketing campaign (that _you_ would pay by the means of an increased price of book and that would also make the book less sellable for price sensitive and to poors) so I use the speech as a platform.

What is that you find objectionable to that ?

Mind you, even if I like and am interested in Zimbardo's work, I am no "fan" so if he said bullshit I more then welcome exposing the bullshit or the error ( some Freud fans wouldn't agree with that, like most fans do anyway ) ; if Zimbardo speaks in tongues, fucks sheeps or vote republican, that is _not the same_ as doing an excellent job at discovering what was unknown or offering a better understanding of what was misunderstood.
posted by elpapacito at 5:45 AM on March 10, 2007


elpapacito - That's a valid point, but it is pretty meaningless without writing an explanation of how you would have done it and how.

I'm not pretending to be an expert in the rigours of psychological experiments, so this is just my opinion, but as goingonit noted upthread "Zimbardo put himself in the experiment as the head "prison warden"!", which alone makes the whole thing sound pretty flaky.

This is from wikipedia so make of it what you will - "Zimbardo was not merely a neutral observer, but influenced the direction of the experiment as its "superintendent". Conclusions and observations drawn by the experimenters were largely subjective and anecdotal, and the experiment would be difficult for other researchers to reproduce."

What I would do differently? I can only point to the Milgram experiments, which seem to come to the same conclusions.

As far as why I find using his speech as a platform to plug his book objectionable - he seems to be pretending that he's making a big 'final' speech (again, despite the fact that he officially retired four years ago) to make a statement about the ethics of Abu Ghraib when actually he's shilling for a book to get the most mileage out of the one thing he's known for.

If the book is discounted because of the reduced need for a marketing campaign and the savings are passed to 'the poors' then fine, but if he's just hocking his box then it confirms my suspicion that he's a better salesman than a psychologist.
posted by backOfYourMind at 6:24 AM on March 10, 2007


Here's a nice article from the BBC News website by Stephen Reicher and Alex Haslam, a couple of psychologists who recreated the Stanford Prison experiment for a TV programme a few years back (it didn't end half as badly as Zimbardo's, you'll be pleased to hear; they did a write-up in The Psychologist, which you can read here), on relating the Stanford findings to Abu Ghraib.
posted by terrynutkins at 6:25 AM on March 10, 2007


I was in one of his (in)famous sprawling Psych 1 lecture halls over 20 years ago. The controversy that year was that a bunch of students took their final exams out onto the grass outside of Kresge Auditorium and cheated.

Zimbardo seemed be overly enamored of his own hype and status (and his Psych 1 class was less heat than light), but you could easily say that about a lot of semi-celeb faculty at most major research universities.

As someone wrote in the comments to the linked Stanford Daily article, "For anyone that has ever taken a Zimbardo class ... you're taking a Zimbardo class, not a Psychology class, and Phil more than anyone wants that to be the way you remember it."
posted by blucevalo at 9:12 AM on March 10, 2007


I love it; I think Zimbardo is an overrated hack with dubious methods and conclusions, and somehow this makes me a conservative?
posted by keswick at 9:31 AM on March 10, 2007


goingonit: My point is not that Zimbardo is wrong about Abu Ghraib. My point is that if he's right, the reasons why have nothing to do with his experiment.

Okay, I see your point and I agree.
posted by homunculus at 9:53 AM on March 10, 2007


"Quiet Rage" is a 50 minute long video by Zimbardo about the experiment. It contains lots of footage from the experiment with explanations from Zimbardo and some really funny electronic music.

This video gets played in introductory Social Psychology classes at schools everywhere.
posted by redteam at 11:36 AM on March 10, 2007


I love it; I think Zimbardo is an overrated hack with dubious methods and conclusions, and somehow this makes me a conservative?

No, you think Zimbardo is an overrated hack with dubious methods and conclusions, and that you decide to bring up his marriage to a student as validation and proof of this that makes you a conservative.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:37 PM on March 10, 2007


Oh, okay, I guess student/teacher relations are perfectly ethical?
posted by keswick at 5:53 PM on March 10, 2007



Also, you can only eat Schrodinger's Cat if you open the box and it's still alive. After it dies from the poison gas, it makes the meat taste funny.
- Balisong

... any chance we can try this with keswick and see if it works with people too?
posted by Surfurrus at 7:24 PM on March 10, 2007


Oh, okay, I guess student/teacher relations are perfectly ethical?

Pick a subject. When you mix them you dilute both your arguments.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:07 PM on March 10, 2007


Like bringing in the liberal/conservative tag? Gotcha.
posted by keswick at 8:48 PM on March 10, 2007




keswick, okay, so Zimbardo married one of his students. Let's say that's unethical, as you're apparently arguing.

Does that make the research invalid?

If so, how, exactly?

If not, why are you grinding this particular axe?
posted by pax digita at 5:11 AM on March 12, 2007


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