“Now, okay,” Zimbardo corrected himself on the phone with me. He then acknowledged that the informed consent forms which subjects signed had included an explicit safe phrase: “I quit the experiment.” Only that precise phrase would trigger their release.
“None of them said that,” Zimbardo said. “They said, ‘I want out. I want a doctor. I want my mother,’ etc., etc. Essentially I was saying, ‘You have to say, “I quit the experiment.”’”
But the informed consent forms that Zimbardo’s subjects signed, which are available online from Zimbardo’s own website, contain no mention of the phrase “I quit the experiment.”
But if Zimbardo’s work was so profoundly unscientific, how can we trust the stories it claims to tell? Many other studies, such as Soloman Asch’s famous experiment demonstrating that people will ignore the evidence of their own eyes in conforming to group judgments about line lengths, illustrate the profound effect our environments can have on us. The far more methodologically sound — but still controversial — Milgram experiment demonstrates how prone we are to obedience in certain settings.
From an Atlantic write-up of the newer study:
Watts and his colleagues were skeptical of that finding. The original results were based on studies that included fewer than 90 children—all enrolled in a preschool on Stanford’s campus. In restaging the experiment, Watts and his colleagues thus adjusted the experimental design in important ways: The researchers used a sample that was much larger—more than 900 children—and also more representative of the general population in terms of race, ethnicity, and parents’ education. The researchers also, when analyzing their test’s results, controlled for certain factors—such as the income of a child’s household—that might explain children’s ability to delay gratification and their long-term success.
The original story of Kitty Genovese’s death, first promulgated by the New York Times in a front-page article 50 years ago today—young single woman brutally murdered while 38 strangers watched and did nothing—was incorrect in almost every particular.
The murder itself was horrifying, of course. The Times got that right. But the story that made Genovese a household name and a symbol of modern social dysfunction got nearly everything else wrong. From the number of witnesses to the details of the crime to the timing of the police response, there are by my count no fewer than 29 significant errors in the original Times story, five of them in its very first sentence.
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