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Please read the assigned chapter from You May Ask Yourself and the article about the famous, and controversial, Stanford Prison Experiment titled, “Situated Dynamics in a Simulated Prison” by C. Haney, W. Banks and P. Zimbardo (Ch. 8, 68-77 in MtSL – on Canvas). Similarities have been drawn between the treatment of inmates in both the Stanford Prison experiment and the military prison of Abu Ghraib where there was well documented abuse of prisoners. In the study, the researchers examined the ways in which the rules of institutions and certain situations have the power to transform the behavior of ordinary people in disturbing ways. The Stanford Prison Experiment suggests that amoral and sadistic actions perpetuated by individuals may be the result of systems/institutions rather than the traditional explanation that amoral acts are simply perpetuated by “a few bad apples.”
To get a sense of prison conditions within the Stanford Prison Experiment, feel free to view videos from the study online. For example:
The famous Milgram Experiment also dealt with the tensions between obedience to authority and personal conscience. Milgram asked a simple question concerning personal morality within amoral institutions:
“Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?” (Milgram, 1974).
For this prompt, please answer the following questions (below) based on those devised by P. Zimbardo and your analysis of the experiment and what you have learned from our class so far.
1. If you were a guard, what type of guard would you have become? How sure are you?
2. Would it have been better to not conduct the Stanford experiment? Why/why not?
3. Was this an ethical study? Why/why not? In other words, was it right to trade the suffering experienced by participants for the knowledge gained by the research?
4. What similarities (if any) do you see between the Stanford Prison Experiment and Abu Ghraib? Note: Zimbardo wrote a 2007 book on the similarities between the two situations titled: The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.
5. This research presents the notion that the power of prison situations (or other total institutions) can have a destructive effect on human nature/ethics/morality. What recommendations would you make for changing the correctional system in the US – a nation with 5% of world population but over 20% of world prison population?