The stanford prison experiment
February 18, 2001 9:28 AM   Subscribe

The stanford prison experiment This site has an interesting, well-written review of the Stanford prison experiment written by one of those involved. See also: Coalition for the Abolition of prisons. [via kuro5hin]
posted by fvw (10 comments total)
Fascinating article. Good read, freaky video clips. Thanks for the tip.
posted by waxpancake at 10:28 AM on February 18, 2001

Yeah, that's a good site, I used it for my holocaust paper. Pretty freaky. "Be careful what you pretend to be, because in the end, what you pretend to be is what you are" Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night
posted by dagnyscott at 11:03 AM on February 18, 2001

It's kind of interesting, but it's really *bad* science.

posted by muppetboy at 11:34 AM on February 18, 2001

If I remember correctly from some of my psychology classes this prison experiment awakened people quite a bit as to how experiments with human subjects should be conducted. It opened up a whole new series of questions about experimenter ethics.
posted by rlef98 at 12:33 PM on February 18, 2001

That was the most interesting thing I've seen in a long time on the internet. I've always said, people are basically bad. :-|)
posted by jpate at 1:48 PM on February 18, 2001

Exactly, nobody would do this today. Note that even the experimenters realized that it had reached a point where they themselves were psychologically affected by the dual role of observer and prison supervisors, and were receiving criticism from colleagues, which prompted them to end it.

There are resonances here with Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments ten years earlier with, for example, subjects administering what they thought were real electrical shocks to other subjects. Milgram is also responsible for the small-world method and the lost-letter technique, which illustrate the Six Degrees idea -- that an expanding series of acquaintances of acquaintances can reach anyone on the planet inside of a limited number of jumps.

This should also be very interesting to fans of, say, Oz and Survivor. Hmm. Put it this way, muppetboy: you couldn't do this science today for $15/day, but you can do it for a perceived $1 million payoff. ;-) (Sliding scale based on expulsion date, roughly from $800/day to $2500/day for the losers, $25K/day for the winner.)
posted by dhartung at 1:57 PM on February 18, 2001

I'd heard of this experiment, but never read in-depth about it. What a great site!

If you explore some of the related links, you learn that Phil Zimbardo ended up getting married to the lady that got all nauseous when she saw the "prisoners'" conditions.
posted by yalestar at 4:20 PM on February 18, 2001

Also, is it me, or is there a certain quality about video and photographs from this era ('68-'75) that instantly reminds you of Manson and Patty Hearst?

Those video clips were especially creepy.
posted by yalestar at 4:32 PM on February 18, 2001

How eerie. I also used this experiment in a Holocaust course discussion. We also used the Milgram experiment in our discussions, with the topic being societal pressure and power. Bad science, yes, but they didn't know how it was going to end up when they started, and I find it a morbidly fascinating study in what people will do when given orders. How far will they go in following them, and how much responsibility will you assume for your actions? The reactions given by the people involved in the Milgram experiment were chilling -- absolving themselves of any and all personal responsibility, claiming instead as their excuse "I was just doing as I was told; they forced me to push that button," when in fact no physical force was ever used, and minimal coercive pressure applied verbally.

posted by evixir at 8:31 PM on February 18, 2001

The legacy of this experiment has been harmful to science. Psychologists are now so afraid of creating the next Stanford Prison Experiment that they are totally unwilling to do anything more than pencil-and-paper tests with their subjects. This allows for all sorts of questionable results, such as this junk science experiment which supposedly proves that video games cause violent behavior -- where "violent behavior" is defined as putting a checkmark next to "Do you feel more aggressive now?" on a Scantron form.

Even Dr. Zimbardo, who conducted the original Stanford Prison Experiment, has stated (scroll down to "research ethics") that he thinks things have gone too far in the other direction. He feels that pencil-and-paper tests just aren't enough to gain real insight into how humans behave under stressful conditions. It is his contention that it would be okay for research departments to "allow some controversial things to be done, but in a highly monitored way". I hope that enventually people start to listen to him, so that we can put an end to pseudo-scientific studies like the one I linked to above.
posted by Potsy at 1:37 AM on February 20, 2001

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