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the BBC recreates the stanford prison experiment.
May 14, 2002 1:20 PM   Subscribe

the BBC recreates the stanford prison experiment. First episode is being aired now, (slightly late post, sorry 'bout that). The original experiment was discussed on mefi here.
posted by fvw (10 comments total)

 
Fascinating! A "Reality TV" show I can appreciate (though I imagine I could be swayed against it). I can't find any information about how exactly the "guards" were able to punish/control/reward the "prisoners". Any Brits (or satellite TV subscribers) able to fill me in?
posted by Marquis at 1:33 PM on May 14, 2002


Let me know if they announce plans to recreate Milgram's obedience experiments.
posted by NortonDC at 1:35 PM on May 14, 2002


And the show's really boring!
posted by skylar at 1:36 PM on May 14, 2002


In the Reading Room section, Drs Haslam and Reicher ask "Do we have any right to make people suffer for our science?". What I find so interesting is that we never seem to ask the question "Do we have any right to make people suffer for our entertainment?". We just shrug our shoulders and say "Well, they volunteered for it". Why is volunteering to go through revolting (i.e. fear factor) or extreme experiences to win cash somehow more ethical than asking people to do so for the cause of Science.

I also think they've changed the basic assumptions of the original experement by taking the threat of any type of violence out of the picture. Not that I'd condone volunteers for a TV show beating other volunteers, but I'm fairly sure that the it is the strain of the constant implied threat of violence (whether or not any actually occurs) that is one of the most important things to measure about the prison experience.

Thanks for the link. I hope one of our UK friends will watch the thing and let us know how it turns out.
posted by anastasiav at 9:06 PM on May 14, 2002


Why is volunteering to go through revolting (i.e. fear factor) or extreme experiences to win cash somehow more ethical than asking people to do so for the cause of Science.

Well, it is usually not good science (at least for psychology) if they actually know what they are getting into. If you say 'we're going to try to get you to humiliate and degrade your fellow man' or 'you're going to be turned into a wimpering coward' the results of the experiment are extremely invalid, so they never say that- they say 'you're going to participate in an experiment.' Nothing more. In contrast, reality TV says up front 'we're going to degrade you and put it all on national TV.' There is (nearly) full disclosure and definitely full awareness. Do I like it? No. Would I ever support any of it? No. But it's a big leap from 'Survivor' to the Milgram experiments.
posted by louie at 9:25 PM on May 14, 2002


I can't find any information about how exactly the "guards" were able to punish/control/reward the "prisoners".

From the guards' comments last night it sounded like they had the options of sending prisoners to the solitary cell (one of them was threatened with 90 minutes in there - very restrained of him not to go 'Wooooh, I'm so scared') or putting them on a bread and water diet (this is as opposed to the small portions of deliberately badly cooked food they're already on).

Nobody's had either punishment inflicted on them yet, mostly because they seem to be being guarded by the most damn useless prison guards in the world. Maybe if Vincent (or Binson?), the gruff, heavily-tattooed Scouse martial arts instructor, had landed up on the guards' side instead, there might be someone in a position of responsibility with a strong enough personality to force some authority, but as it is, the only guard who seems to recognise they have problems with their authority is Ahmed and the other four all undermine each other by maintaining a very disunited front.

Case in point, after a disturbance at mealtime:
(Guard) 'Everyone go back to their cell except Edwards.'
(Edwards) 'Let me go back to my cell.'
(Guard) 'Stay out here.'
(Other guard) 'What's the problem?'
(Guard) 'He wants to go back to his cell.'
(Other guard) 'Let him go back to his cell.'

By the end of last night's episode the prisoners, who are meant to be barefoot (they've also had their heads shaved and been put into orange overalls), are on the point of getting the guards to fetch their sneakers back.

The prisoners were a lot better behaved over the first three days because the psychologists (who aren't taking part in the experiment, unlike Zimbardo, who apparently had a head guard role in the Stanford one) announced almost straight off that they'd be promoting one of the prisoners up to guard. Edwards, a Christian minister, reckoned he was a shoo-in, and the other guys were all doing as they were told just in case, but the guards turned down Edwards in the end because they didn't want a 'big personality' asserting themselves in their group. (This is their problem if you ask me.)

In the end they went for a mild young man called Burnett (whose subsequent contribution to guarding seems practically nil) and Edwards turned a lot more resentful towards the prison. He was the one who complained about the food that mealtime and by the end of the episode was planning an escape bid via the illuminated roof of the cell which apparently can be lifted off.

According to the trailer for the next episode, a set of keys goes missing because one of the guards dropped it while inspecting a cell. I think this says it all..... still, at this rate Britain's probably safe from fascist dictatorship any time soon, if only because These Days You Just Can't Get The Authoritarians.
posted by CatherineB at 2:11 AM on May 15, 2002


(Or possibly because These Days The Authoritarians Just Don't Respond To Newspaper Ads....)
posted by CatherineB at 2:11 AM on May 15, 2002


The show's useless because there's no violence. What is the defining factor in prisons, in authority, in the control of justice in society? Violence. What would the justice of a court be without the threat of violence? Nothing.

Our police, our prison and courtroom guards all carry weapons - so that if you disagree or try and escape, you get hit. "The Experiment" fails because none of the guards is allowed to use or threaten force. Hence their words are hollow and empty. The prisoners can easily take control.
posted by skylar at 10:02 AM on May 15, 2002


Confinement is the defining factor of prisons.
posted by NortonDC at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2002


These Days The Authoritarians Just Don't Respond To Newspaper Ads

but ... but ... shurely if they don't, then the terrorists have won? No ... wrong thread, sorry.
posted by walrus at 7:09 AM on May 17, 2002


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