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December 5, 1996
A Critique Of the Stanford Experiment
"The Education of a Torturer" is an account of experiments that has similar results
to that of Milgram's obedience experimentsthat were performed in 1963. Though both
experiments vary drastically, both have one grim outcome, that is that, "it is ordinary
people, not psychopaths, who become the Eichmanns of history."
The Stanford experiment was performed by psychologists Craig Haney, W. Curtis
Banks, and Philip Zimbardo. Their goal was to find out if ordinary people could become
abusive if given the power to do so. The results of the six day experiment are chilling. The
experiment took ordinary college students and had some agree to be prisoners and the rest
would be guards for the prisoners. Both groups received no training on what to do or act
like. They had to get all of their knowledge of what to do from outside sources, such as
television and movies. The guards were given uniforms and night sticks and told to act
like an ordinary guard would. The prisoners were treated like normal criminals. They
were finger printed and booked, after that they were told to put on prison uniforms and
then they were thrown into the slammer (in this case a simulated cellblock in the
basement was used). All of the participants in this experiment at first were thought to be
similar in behavior but after one week, all of that changed. The prisoners became
"passive, dependent, and helpless." The guards on the other hand were the exact
opposite. They became "aggressive and abusive within the prison, insulting and bullying
After the experiment was finished, many of the mock guards said that they enjoyed
the power. Others said that they had no idea that they were capable of being so corrupt.
The experimenter was shocked at the results as well saying, "It was degrading....To me,
those things are sick. But they (the prisoners) did everything I said. They abused each
other because I requested them to. No one questioned my authority at all."
I have a hard time believing the statement that they experimenter said. He had
reviewed the work of Stanley Milgram's experiment and how individuals became so
violent. Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo had to of known that if they gave the power to take
control of a situation the guards that the power would be abused. The experiment took
place in 1986 and though there had been many years passed since Milgram's experiment
was conducted in 1963, people then and still today try to get to the top of every situation.
In this case, the guards were given the power, and it probably took a day or so before they
began to abuse they power and abuse the inmates. If only they experiment would have
been conducted a year later, Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo may have been able to foresee
the outcome by reading Robert Reich's "An American Morality" which includes a parable
entitled "Rot at the Top." The last line in the parable just goes to prove my point, "Power
corrupts, privilege perverts." I agree with this totally because I can't think of anytime that
I have seen somebody not take advantage of the power given to them in some way or form.
Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo did have one good thing come out of this
experiment. That is that they used ordinary people just like Milgram years earlier and put
them to the test. They subjects obviously failed because all of them showed that, "it is
ordinary people, not psychopaths, who become the Eichmanns of history."
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Psychology, Conformity, Research ethics, Group processes, Human subject research in the United States, Behavior, Behavioural sciences, Medical ethics, Stanford prison experiment, Philip Zimbardo, Milgram experiment, Stanley Milgram
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