An Innocent Experiment with A Dark Ending

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An Innocent Experiment with A Dark Ending

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Psychology is the study of the mind and its effects on behavior. It is a subject that is taught in many schools, whether high school or college. While sitting in my basic psychology course, we were discussing the many psychological experiments that have been performed. One seemed to stick out to me in a disturbing way, the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Essentially, the exigence of this experiment occurred when professor Phillip Zimbardo wanted to further investigate the effects of having power on one’s mind, particularly between guards and prisoners. In 1973, in the basement of the Stanford University psychology building, Zimbardo conducted what seemed to be a harmless experiment. After all, he used advertisements to ask for volunteers in the study. He received 75 answers and those applicants were put through various interviews and tests for mental and physical checks. Only 24 of these men were taken and none of them knew anything about each other. They were all complete strangers who were being paid fifteen dollars a day to participate in the study.
Of the 24 men, 12 were randomly selected to be prisoners and the others to be guards. One man did drop out leaving 11 guards. In order for the experiment to accurately depict a prison environment, the prisoners were treated like proper criminals and arrested for a crime without knowing when or what the crime was and were taken to the police station. They went through all processes of criminal filing. After the filing, a blindfold was placed on their heads, and they were driven to the psychology building and taken to the basement. The basement had been transformed into a mock prison with cells. Upon arrival, the prisoners were stripped of their clothing and given a prisoner gown and sheets for their small bed. The only identification the prisoners had was the number on their given identical uniforms. The prisoners were not allowed to refer to anyone by name and were called on by guards by their number.
The guards worked in shifts and were told they could do whatever they felt was necessary to maintain law and order, but no physical violence was to occur. Hidden cameras were placed around the mock prison and Zimbardo and his colleagues observed behind closed doors nearby. It did not take long for the prisoners and guards to fully take on their roles. A few hours into the experiment, the guards woke the prisoners up for a count (This was at around 2:30 am). The prisoners were to state their numbers aloud. The guards forced the prisoners to repeat this process multiple times until they were allowed to be finished. Later, the prisoners became so adapted to the rules that they began to tell on each other for not following the rules. As typical punishment for breaking the rules, push-ups were enforced by the guards, and even harsher punishments included a foot or another body on their backs.
On the second day, the prisoners organized a rebellion. They took off their uniforms and the caps that were to cover their hair. They then blocked the doors of the cells with their beds. The guards on the shift called in the other remaining guards for back up. The guards used a fire extinguisher to remove the prisoners from the blocked door and removed the prisoners of any clothes and bedding. The prisoners that had organized the events were placed into solitary confinement, and the ones not involved were rewarded in front of the other prisoners.
At around 36 hours, one prisoner began to have a mental breakdown. Zimbardo had told the participants at the beginning of the experiment that they could quit at any time. This prisoner had wanted to quit but the guards told him that he could not quit. This only led to an uncontrollable freak out from the prisoner causing the necessity to remove him from the experiment. The following day, there was a visitation for the prisoners’ families. A rumor of a mass escape plan had gotten around, and the guards and experimenters feared the escape. As an effort to prevent this, the guards began to harass the prisoners once again, making them do chores such as cleaning toilets with their bare hands over and over again. Zimbardo brought a Catholic priest into the prison to talk with the prisoners. Half of the prisoners introduced themselves by their prison number and not their names. Another prisoner had a psychotic breakdown while talking to the priest. They sent the prisoner into a room to rest but the guards had the prisoners in the basement chant his prison number and that he was a bad prisoner. The prisoner heard the chants, was convinced he was a bad prisoner, and began sobbing.
Zimbardo told the prisoner that he could leave but the prisoner insisted that he had to stay to redeem himself of being a bad prisoner. Zimbardo had to remind the prisoner that he was a person and that he needed to leave the experiment. The guards began to become more aggressive toward the prisoners and more prisoners began to break down. Zimbardo was engulfed in the experiment too much to see that the study may have gone too far. It was only when Zimbardo’s girlfriend, a fellow psychologist, intervened that the experiment was shut down. The effects of Zimbardo’s experiment showed that people will conform to any role they need to as a stereotype and follow through with it.