Zimbardo Research Paper
The Stanford Prison Experiment was a renown psychological study of human reactions to captivity in relation to realistic circumstances of prison life. Conducted by Dr. Philip Zimbardo in 1971, he attempted to understand the development of norms, and the effects of labels, roles, and social expectations in a simulated prison environment (McLeod, 2017). The Stanford Prison Experiment identified issues and presented questionable ethical issues. This paper will discuss the value of the study in relation to social psychology, its relevance to contemporary world issues, and the importance relating to humanity as a whole. It will also review the problems and ethical concerns resulting from the experiment and lastly, examine current safeguards to reduce the risk of future ethical concerns in similar studies.
Value of the Study In Relation to Social Psychology
Research in social psychology show how social groups influence the personality, attitudes, motivations, and behaviors of individuals (Fiske, 2014). In the Stanford Prison experiment, the value was established in the correlation of social psychology between the influence of groups and conformity when the guards assumed assigned social roles. This study supports the findings that situational factors provide better explanations of behaviors than the dispositions of the individuals (Fiske, 2014). The experiment also demonstrated how power and authority influence a person and changes their perception of fairness, confidence, adventurous, and goal-directed behaviors. Furthermore, the study correlates to the cognitive dissonance theory where people exhibited how easily they can be manipulated to perform actions outside their norm (Fiske, 2014). The outcome of the experiment affected the world.
Relevance of the Study in Relation to Contemporary World Issues
The Stanford Prison experiment provides invaluable insight of authority and conformity influences which can be compared to today’s current world issues. Its illustration of power in a situation and its ability to create extreme behaviors are familiar characteristics in domination (Fiske, 2010). The behavior in this experiment can be applied to terrorism in the real world event involving Abu Ghraib. In this event, American soldiers were ordered to watch Iraqi prisoners. Similar to the Stanford Prison Experiment, when pressured, the soldiers lost their composure. They stripped, beat, humiliated and tortured the prisoners. The soldiers were also unprepared and not trained on how to maintain prisons. This correlates to the experiment due to the guards also had no idea what to do when they received the directive and authority over the prisoners. Since neither groups were trained to handle the degree of power, it was misdirected and abused.
Dr. Zimbardo’s classic study showed that under the right circumstances and situation, people can be influenced to perpetrate acts of extreme violence and humiliation. This insight stands valid for terrorists and the US soldiers who adhere to group dynamics of influence and conformity of obeying a leader or subscribing to majority views. During the past 50 years, the capability to understand human behavior in and among groups has considerably increased. In addition, the experiment offered new perspectives on the psychology of future terrorists and what prompts radicalization (Post and Panis, 2011).
The Value of the Study in Relation to Humanity as a Whole
The Stanford Prison Experiment’s benefits humanity as a whole by the validity in its findings that certain situations and given authority can result in deviating behavior from the norm. The study demonstrated under what circumstances behavior can be influenced and how easily people can conform to their environment. The Stanford prison experiment gave psychologist the ability to further explore human behaviors, social roles, conformity, and the potential for positive to become negative (Online Classroom Ltd., 2007).
Problems and Ethical Concerns Created by the Stanford Prison Experiment
There were several problems and ethical concerns that surfaced from the experiment. The major concern was the physical aspect of the study and its effect on the participants. Some of the problems are: the consent form was not fully described and stated that participants would not be physically harmed, and the guards were untrained and abused their authority. The debriefing was poorly done and executed and guards were totally unprepared to monitor the prisoners (Fiske, 2014).
The code violations extended farther than physical abuse and included mental and psychological effects. The violations were: Dr. Zimbardo was too involved in the experiment and could not make decisions, the guards did not realize they were hurting the prisoners; who were not protected from harm or danger. The researchers discussed that several participants withdrew from the study due to suffering from depression, anxiety, or psychological disturbances (Fiske, 2010). Dr. Zimbardo could not provide a valid study generalization since the selected population was biased, consisting of mostly white, middle-class individuals (Fiske, 2010).
Current Safeguards for Ethical Concerns Arising in Research Studies
The prison experiment prompted many ethical concerns and the need for experimental structure. As a result, the American Psychological Association (APA) implemented safeguards to protect all parties involved. The APA is an institutional review board which specializes in reviewing research plans of institutions such as universities, hospitals, and government agencies” (McLeod, 2017, p. 12). A few of the revisions in the ethical guidelines address the protection of participants from any harm, ensures informed consent, and defines specific roles of the researcher as stated in Section 8.02 regarding obtaining informed consent (American Psychological Association Ethical Guidelines, 2017).
Throughout history, experiments have pioneered psychologist to further understand human behavior. The Stanford Prison Experiment enlighten researchers on social roles, behavior, conformity, and manipulation in controlled environments. As a result of its unethical practices, the experiment forced required evaluations by institutional review boards such as the American Psychological Association (APA, 2017). The APA implemented ethical guidelines and standards which created a high expectation of ethical conduct during studies of human research. Although much has been learned from the Stanford Prison Experiment, Dr. Zimbardo’s study had detrimental adverse effects and costly benefits.