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Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment, Article Critique Example

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Article Critique

Introduction

The Stanford Prison experiment was conducted by the psychologist Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University in 1971.  The study placed young men as mock guards in a prison simulation where they abused their prisoners.  The objective being to examine the psychological triggers that made the guards abuse their prisoners. This was aimed at looking towards the similarities with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal but the situational forces in play were very different.  In March 2007 Zimbardo revisited the experiment in order to determine how social psychological thinking had moved on from the early 1970’s.   The article considers this from a number of different perspectives but recognizes that the original experiment can never be repeated under the original conditions. The original experiment revealed how human behavioural patterns can be transformed to a point of dehumanization, the results of which have a profound impact on psychology and the criminal justice system.  (Zimbardo, P. 2007).

Analysis

The guards in the Stanford experiment were seen to do terrible things to the prisoners.  These horrors included stripping the prisoners to stand naked, hooding of prisoners, chaining the prisoners, denying the prisoners food, denying bedding materials, placement into solitary confinement  and making the prisoners clean out urinals with their bare hands. One sort of amusement included that of simulated sodomy.

The experiment however, despite being fairly grim, was not so horrific as the crimes perpetuated by the US Soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Here the soldiers were geared up for some serious payback and this included: punching, kicking and hitting detainees, attaching wires to sensitive areas on the prisoners and administering electric shock treatment, use of unmuzzled dogs to intimidate detainees, pouring of phosphoric chemicals to burn the detainees, committing acts of brutal sodomy.  Hence in some regards the Stanford experiment could be considered as inhumane brutality compared to that of torture carried out in Iraq.

In order to understand this in greater detail and why the guards in Iraq went beyond the brutality of the Stanford experiment, a number of factors have to be considered:-

Personality –  In the Stanford experiment the both the guards and inmates were selected as being relatively stable individuals both physically and mentally.  This was a relatively sanitized environment where both guards and prisoners had relatively good psychological profiles.  None of the group had previously had a disposition towards violent behaviour.  The two veteran lead prison guards at Abu Ghraib both had bad psychological profiles including a repeat history of violent behaviour.  Equally the guards being trained soldiers had a previous disposition to violence, killing and brutality.  The prisoners equally had a history of terrorism and been exposed to violent crime.

Racial Differences –  With the exception of one person both the prisoners and guards in the Stanford experiment were white.  With Abu Ghraib the Guards were American and the prisoners were Iraqi.  The guards hated Iraq, they did not understand fully why they were there, they were under constant attack from insurgents and above all wanted ‘payback’ for the atrocities that happened in the 9/11 attack in New York.  There was a degree of racial hatred and the guards viewed the prisoners as enemies of the United States.

The main point of the Stanford experiment was aimed at discrediting personal responsibility  and illustrating how personal behaviour was largely influenced and controlled by environmental and social conditions. Zimbardo maintained that we create an illusion of freedom being where we attribute more control to ourselves than actually exists. Zimbardi maintained that people always retain accountability for their personal behaviour but there are situations that can induce them to change  and as such be seduced into doing really bad things. All individuals have a dark side within them and the capacity for committing evil.  This capacity is normally contained but it can be manipulated by changing environmental, social and political situations.

Conclusions

The conclusions and arguments put forward by the author are sound deductive one’s.  People can be influenced and dehumanized by others. History has shown countless examples of this.  People do have a responsibility for personal accountability and need to control their own moral compass in order to maintain their humanity. The situations at Guantanimo and Abu Ghraib are stark reminders of the seduction of evil.

References

Zimbardo, P. G. (2007). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a lesson in the power of situation. Chronicle of Higher Education .

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