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Exercise 1.1: Review of Research Study and Consideration of Ethical Guidelines
Option 1: Stanford Prison Experiment
Go to: http://www.prisonexp.org, the official site for the Stanford Prison Experiment.
What do you think the research questions were in this study? List 2 or 3 possible research questions (in question format) that may have been the focus of this experiment.
What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? Does natural or innate evil exist, or is evil situational? Are certain people simply born "bad apples" or are they made evil by "bad barrels"?
What is "reality" in a prison setting? This study is one in which an illusion of imprisonment was created, but when do illusions become real? How quickly and easily will 'ordinary men' adjust to the roles as prisoners, guards and administrators?
What is identity? Is there a core to your self-identity independent of how others define you? How difficult would it be to remake any given person into someone with a new identity? If you were a guard, what type of guard would you have become? How sure are you?
Data Collection Methods:
1) Identify the methods used to collect data in this study.
The researchers had a videotape system in place to record all the events in the 'prison', and all the 'cells' were secretly bugged with microphones so all the conversations of the 'prisoners' and 'guards' could be recorded. Very soon, however, the experiment itself broke down and even the research staff fell very quickly into the roles as wardens and superintendents of the 'prison'. Phlip Zimbardo noted that instead of observing and recording the experiment, he had begun to think like a prison warden, concerned with the security of his facility, plots and conspiracies among the 'prisoners' to escape or revolt, and with possible threats against 'his men' -- who after all were simply a group of randomly selected college students. In a few days, the experiment had become real, and Zimbardo was no longer concerned with gathering data or what the independent or dependent variables might have been, but with maintaining order and discipline in his 'prison'. The experimenters had become part of the experiment. Zimbardo and the staff did observe that the worst behavior on the part of the guards occurred during the night shift, when they thought the experiment was not running and they were no longer being observed. They were wrong, but the act that they thought they could more easily get away with cruelty when they thought they were not being seen and recorded by the researchers was also a significant finding. The 'guards' were even more likely to push their mistreatment to the limits when they imagined they would not be discovered and there would be no consequences for their actions. As a field experiment rather than a scientific one, the only data collected was observational, although naturally it did offer certain disturbing insights into human social behavior in situations of confinement under authoritarian rule.
2) Who were the participants in the study? Did they volunteer or were they selected? If selected, how were they selected? Were they free to leave the study?
All the participants were white, middle class males from the U.S. And Canada who happened to be in the Stanford, California at the time. They were all undergraduates attending various universities and answered an ad in a newspaper requesting volunteers for an experiment that was planned to last for two weeks. They were paid $15 per day for participating, and all signed forms indicating that were taking part in the study voluntarily and had been informed that they would be randomly assigned as 'guards' and prisoners'. They were all given standardized diagnostic interviews and psychological tests. Of the 24 selected, none had prior criminal records or histories of mental illness, and half were randomly assigned to play the role of 'guards' and the other half as 'prisoners'. They were free to leave the study if they requested, although this had to be done with the permission of the staff. As it turned out, six of the 'prisoners' were so badly traumatized that they quit the experiment early, and Philip Zimbardo terminated it completely after six days. Both guards and prisoners adapted to their roles far more quickly than anyone expected in an artificial situation like this, and
in fact became their roles in a very short time. None of the 'guards' quit, though, and none even called in sick or come late to his shift. One possible criticism of the study is that the way the subjects were selected through a newspaper ad may have appealed to individuals with a greater disposition toward violence.
3) What about anonymity and confidentiality of the participants?
In the study itself, none of the 'prisoners' or guards used their real names, and the 'prisoners' were also deliberately dehumanized by being referred to only as numbers. Even up to the present, the real names and identities of most of the people who participated in this famous (infamous?) experiment remain unknown to the general public, unless they have chosen to reveal these themselves. Most have not, even when they have appeared in television interviews from time to time over the years their real identities are still concealed. We have never known the real name of the heroic 'prisoner 416', who went on a hunger strike to protest conditions in the 'prison', only that he later became a clinical psychologist working with inmates in the San Francisco jail. Nor do we know the true identity of "John Wayne," the most sadistic of the 'guards', only that he later became a 'mild-mannered real estate broker' who looked back on what he had done in the experiment with great shock and remorse, as if it had been some other person he had never really known.
4) Issues of informed consent? Even if participants sign informed consent forms, if they begin to get harmed or show signs of distress, physically or psychologically in an experiment (or interview), should the researchers intervene?
Some of the prisoners had to leave the experiment early because they were so traumatized and dehumanized by the experience that they broke down completely, and ended up crying hysterically. For showing 'weakness' in this way they would also be taunted and humiliated by the 'guards' and even their fellow 'prisoners'. They forgot that this was all an experiment and they could leave at any time, but began to fall into the role of powerless and alienated prisoners, completely at the mercy of the 'authorities'. In fact, even Zimbardo and the experimenters quickly came to assume that any 'prisoner' who started crying or acting hysterically must be faking in hopes of winning release. Even the prison chaplain and members of the 'parole board' quickly assumed these roles, almost as if they were in a movie, while some 'prisoners' even requested that the chaplain contact their parents and help them obtain legal assistance so they might be released from the 'prison'. Zimbardo later noted that 'prisoners' whose personality tests revealed a high degree of authoritarianism adapted best of all to their role as prisoners, and endured longest in the study.
When one of the standby 'prisoners', #416, took the place of one of the others who had been sent home, he was appalled by the conditions in the 'prison' and immediately went on a hunger strike. For this act of defiance the 'guards' threw him into solitary confinement all night even though this was against their own rules. Nor was 416 considered a hero by his fellow prisoners, but only a "trouble maker" who would make their own lives even more difficult. They felt no sympathy for him at all, and as "old hands" after five days in the prison simply warned him that there was no possibility of escape or release and that he should simply obey the rules. As 416 put it after the experiment ended: "I began to feel that I was losing my identity, that the person that I called Clay, the person who put me in this place, the person who volunteered to go into this prison -- because it was a prison to me; it still is a prison to me. I don't regard it as an experiment or a simulation because it was a prison run by psychologists instead of run by the state. I began to feel that that identity, the person that I was that had decided to go to prison was distant from me -- was remote until finally I wasn't that, I was 416. I was really my number."
Only when some of the parents of the 'prisoners' found a lawyer who came to interview them did it become clear to Zimbardo that they would have to end the study earlier than planned. Zimbardo's girlfriend at the time, "Christina Maslach, a recent Stanford Ph.D. brought in to…
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