Over at Scientific American is a blog posting about Zimbardo's prison experiment. I've slowly been covering some of the most important social psychology experiments and now seems as good a time as any to discuss Zimbardo's infamous experiment. Phillip Zimbardo is a Stanford social psychologist, who like Milgram, was interested in how people act in certain situations. From the official prison experiment website:
What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? These are some of the questions we posed in this dramatic simulation of prison life conducted in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University. How we went about testing these questions and what we found may astound you. Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.
Watch the youtube videos and read the websites, and you'll learn about an experiment which fits hauntingly well with Milgram's own finding that people will obey orders which harm another person. Unlike in Milgram's study, all the participants in Zimbardo's experiment knew that they were taking part in a social psychology study and still the 'guards' became over zealous and the 'prisoners' became resigned to their lack of status and respect.
Zimbardo's great contribution to psychology is also like Milgram's in another way. It highlights the fact that when people are put into unusual or stressful situations, they may behave in ways in which they wouldn't normally act. It's the situation, not the specific individuals involved.Go Top