Good Essay About Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanford prison experiment has been heralded by many psychologists as a great insight into the human behavior. However, others criticize the experiment on the grounds of ethics. The experiment involved participants, who were volunteer students, and were divided into guards and prisoners, after a mock prison was set up in the basement of Stanford University. The objective of the research experiment, headed by Prof Philip Zimbardo, was in power, a situation on the behavior of a person. In other words, “what happens when you place good people in a bad place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph?” (Zimbardo, 2015 p. 1). This discussion will hash out the justification of the experiment on ethical grounds as well as the lessons the experiments gives on social psychology.
On the basis of ethics, the experimenters were not justified to undertake the study. In fact, with the modern development of ethical standards and codes, psychological researchers cannot replicate the experiment. The participants of the experiment were subjected to suffering, which is against the ethical principle that champions the sacred nature of human life and thus making any intentional demeaning, whether physical or mental, unethical. In essence, the psychological and biological integrity of human life cannot be jeopardized for the benefits of research. Even Zimbardo concedes that he there was an ethical breach in conducting the experiment when he asserts that "although we ended the study a week earlier than planned, we did not end it soon enough." It implies that soon enough can be interpreted as not undertaking the study at all.
The popularity of the experiment does not root from the ethical concerns it raised rather it was from the gains that the experimenters’ gained and shared. For instance, new knowledge of social psychology was coined, reforms for improvement of conditions in prisons were made up, myriads of publications and media publicity followed the experiment (Zimbardo, 1973 p. 248). On the other hand, the negative implications vast and incomparable to the gains derived from the study. Despite the participants’ consent for loss of privacy, civil rights loss and harassment during the period of study, Zimbardo failed to protect them from physical harm. He also failed to protect them from loss of innocence, psychological harm and even the bitter memories that would live long even after the study had been terminated (Zimbardo, 1973 p. 249). The suffering encountered by the participants is relatively long lasting, and it was improper to trade in the benefits garnered from the research with the traumatic encounters and memories inflicted on the participants.
However, the experiment’s results were very insightful in regards to obedience, compliance, conformity and social psychology in general. Neither of the participants had any criminal history nor psychological problem. The participants were all students who volunteered and were randomly separated into guards and prisoners. The dress code for guards included military uniform, mirror sunglasses and batons whereas the prisoners wore smocks, chain anklets, rubber sandals and had their heads shaved (Fine 10). Although all the participants started off equally as volunteer students, once they were assigned roles, the prisoners considered the guards as authority figures and hence obeyed their commands. In fact, the promptness, with which the participants took up their roles, necessitated the termination of the experiment after six days (Pao 1).
Fine, Howard. “The Impact of the Social world”. Journal of Social psychology, 2014.
Pao, Kevin. Conformity to Social Roles: Stanford Prison. Socially Influenced, April 7, 2013.
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Zimbardo, Philip. “On the Ethics of Intervention in Human Psychological Research: With
Special Reference to the Stanford Prison Experiment”. Cognition 2(2), 1973, pp. 243-256
Zimbardo, Phillip. “A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment
Conducted at Stanford University”. Stanford Prison Experiment, 2015. Web. 20 January 2015.