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NolenBelle Bryant

on 30 April 2015

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Transcript of Zimbardo

Prison Experiment
by Nolen Belle
Right off the bat, the policemen treat the volunteers inhumanely by not informing them as to why they have been arrested. This of course makes the volunteers fearful and confused. Adding to the effect was the extensive lengths that the policemen went to follow the real procedures of an arrest. This included being read their Miranda rights, booked and identified, handcuffed, and having had their body searched. To undergo such thorough procedures without any explanation as to why they had been arrested would be incredibly stressful. However, the real trauma began upon arriving at the prison. When the now prisoners first arrived, they were greeted with being strip-searched and having their bodies chemically sprayed in order to be delouse. This robs them of their dignity and dehumanizes them. Adding to that effect was the dress code of robes yet no undergarments and pantyhose on their heads to simulate baldness. Furthermore, the patients were stripped of their very identity by being assigned a number.

The guards are also ordinary volunteers who therefore know it is immoral to punish someone who has done no wrong. If the guard then punishes the prisoner, they will experience discomfort because they are doing something they know to be morally wrong which causes cognitive dissonance or the troubling occurrence when one person tries to hold two beliefs which conflict with each other. In order to continue abusing the prisoners, the guards must therefore justify it to themselves. One guards justification was that he was doing it for his own experiment. I hypothesize that others were so into the role of guard, that their justification of the abuse was simply that the prisoners deserved it. I am very sure that I would not have been the type of guard who would harass the prisoners. Would I have been tough and fair or would I've been the kind to give special favors? Between those two, I'm not so sure. I'm uncomfortable being in extreme power over people, so it seems logical to me that I would treat the prisoners as equals which would most likely result in me being the nicest of the guard options.

The good guards are those who least used the authority that they were given. More specifically, they are the ones who did not resort to violence. Why did they not stop the other guards from misusing their power? The answer, as seen in Milgram's experiment, is that obedience of authority figures is ingrained in each of us. Just as the prisoners follow the orders of the guards (all of whom are authority figures), so do the guards with less perceived power follow the lead or at least not contradict the lead of the guards who personified the most power. This is a troubling component of the human psyche because Milgram proved that it is such a strong impulse, people can be driven to atrocious acts and even murder if commanded by an authority figure.

This is a question that I hope will never be able to answer from experience. I, like everyone else, would like to assume I can handle the pressure of real prison or at least fake prison. However, I do acknowledge that I am someone who gets incredibly stressed out when I feel like my freedom or independence is being infringed upon. I would like to imagine that as a prisoner of the experiment, I would remind my guards that this was not but a set up and they needn't be physical or violent with us. I would like to imagine that even a real jail, I could remain rational. I will admit that I don't have full confidence in my ability to handle such a situation real or experimental. I get stressed out in every day life if I don't have enough quiet time to myself to do simply as I want to do.

All of the people in this experiment were volunteers, and they agreed to undergo a stressful scenario. However, I still feel like this was not an ethical experiment. For one, though it did prove the atrocities faced in prison, I feel like a lot of that same data could've been gathered simply by observing real prisons. That therefore makes this experiment seem unnecessary and potentially life damaging. Furthermore, I don't believe that the health of either the prisoners or the guards was properly monitored and take it into consideration. When the volunteers show signs of psychological breakdowns, the monitors considered that they might be putting on a show to get out of prison. That takes the mental health of the volunteers way too lightly because the results of an experiment are not worth such harm to the participants.

If I had been charge, I would not have been able to conduct the study. If I had begun to do such a trial, I would have been forced to stop at the first sign of potentially serious harm to the volunteers which may have been right after the first riot. I acknowledge that knowledge often has a price; however, my own moral code would only allow me to pay that price personally and not to ask it of others. One possible fix for the scenario would have been to not give the guards such leniency in how they are allowed to discipline the prisoners. Of course, all the treatments that the guards used are shockingly similar to those in real prisons which is what makes this study so horrifyingly fascinating. Though I would like to imagine there is some other scenario that could achieve the same results and not witnessed people acting through base animal instincts, I feel that this experiment is very telling and is perhaps the only true way to test the most natural reaction to power.

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