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Stanford Prison Experiment

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Davide Trimarchi

on 16 July 2015

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Transcript of Stanford Prison Experiment

ESCAPE PLOT
One of the guards overhears that Prisoner #8612, whom had been released the night before, is going to round up a bunch of his friends and break in to free the prisoners.
The university staff hold a strategy session to plan how to foil the escape.
Later,
Christina Maslach
, a recent Stanford Ph.D. arrives to conduct interviews with the guards and prisoners. She strongly objects to what she sees: Prisoners being marched on a toilet run, bags over their heads, legs chained together, hands on each other's shoulders.
"It's terrible what you are doing to these boys!"

Out of 50 or more outsiders who had seen the prison, Christina is the only one to question its morality. Once she countered the power of the situation, it becomes clear that the study must end.
And so, after only six days, the planned two-week prison is was called off.
AN END TO THE EXPERIMENT
On the fifth night, visiting parents asked the staff to contact a lawyer in order to get their son out of prison. They say
a Catholic priest had called to tell them and told them they should get a lawyer
or public defender if they wanted to get their son out!
Zimbardo calls the lawyer as requested. He arrives the next day to interview the prisoners with a standard set of legal questions, even though he, too, knew it was just an experiment.
KAFKAESQUE
At this point in the study, a Catholic priest is invited to the prison. As a former prison chaplain, it’s his job to evaluate how realistic the situation has become. The chaplain interviews each prisoner individually, amazingly, half introduce themselves by number rather than name. After some small talk, the chaplain pops the key question:
"Son, what are you doing to get out of here?"
The prisoners respond with puzzlement. “The only way to get out of prison is with the help of a lawyer. Would you like me to contact your parents”. Some of the prisoners accept the offer.
PAYBACK
The prison break turned out to be just a rumor. The staff become frustrated at having spent an entire day planning to foil the escape. They react with considerable frustration and dissonance: Someone was going to pay for this.
The guards again escalate their level of harassment
, increasing the humiliation they made the prisoners suffer, forcing them to do menial, repetitive work such as cleaning out toilet bowls with their bare hands.
After the meeting, they decide to put an informant in the cell that #8612 had occupied. Then they formulate a second plan– to
dismantle the jail, call in more guards, chain the prisoners together, put bags over their heads, and transport them to a fifth floor storage room
until after the anticipated break in. When the conspirators arrived, Zimbardo would be sitting there alone. He would tell them that the experiment was over and their friends had been sent home and there was no-one left to liberate.
After half a day of this treatment, the guards then take some of the "good" prisoners and put them into the "bad" cells, exchanging them with "bad" prisoners. This thoroughly confuses all the prisoners. The rebellion ringleaders now believe the good prisoners must be informers, and suddenly, the prisoners don’t trust each other.

Every aspect of the prisoners' behavior falls under the total and arbitrary control of the guards.
Even going to the toilet becomes a privilege. After the nightly 10:00 P.M. lights out "lock-up," prisoners are forced to urinate or defecate in a bucket.


INDEPENDENCE
Day 1 passes without incident, which meant the rebellion of Day 2 comes as a big surprise.
The prisoners remove their stocking caps, rip off their numbers, and barricade themselves inside the cells by putting their beds against the door.
The guards become angry and frustrated as the prisoners begin to taunt and curse them.
When the morning shift guards arrive, they are upset at the night shift who, they feel, must have been too lenient.

The guards insist on reinforcements. The standby guards are called in and the night shift voluntarily remain on duty. The guards decide to meet force with force.
They take a fire extinguisher and use the stream of skin-chilling carbon dioxide to force the prisoners away from the doors.

The guards break into each cell,
strip the prisoners naked, remove the beds, force the ringleaders into solitary confinement,
and generally began to harass and intimidate the prisoners.



The guards are dressed in identical khaki uniforms and carry a whistle around their neck. Their authority is reinforced with billy clubs borrowed from local police and special sunglasses.
The mirrors on their eyes prevent anyone from reading their emotions
.
At first there are nine guards and nine prisoners in the jail. Guards work eight hour shifts in teams of three. The remaining guards and prisoners from the original 24 are placed on call.
PARENTS AND FRIENDS
The next day, it’s visiting hour for parents and friends. The staff are worried that the parents would see the state of the jail and would insist on taking their sons home. To counter this, the staff manipulate both the situation and the visitors by making the prison environment seem pleasant and benign. The prisoners are washed, shaved, and groomed. They are forced to clean and polish their cells.
ENFORCING THE LAW
The guards are given no specific training. Instead, they’re free, within limits, to do whatever they think necessary to maintain law and order in the prison and to command the prisoners respect. The guards have their own set of rules. However, they’re warned of the potential seriousness of their mission and of the possible dangers of the situation.
AUTHORITY
Suddenly at 2:30 A.M. the prisoners are rudely awakened by blasting whistles for the first of many "counts." The counts familiarizing the prisoners with their numbers, but more importantly, they allow regular opportunity for the guards to exercise control over the prisoners. At first, the prisoners are not completely into their roles and don’t take the counts seriously. The guards also feel out their new roles and are not yet sure how to assert authority over their prisoners.
The prisoner is issued a uniform –
a dress, or smock, which each prisoner wore at all times with no underclothes
. On the smock, front and back, is his prison ID number. On each prisoner's right ankle is a heavy chain, bolted on and worn at all times. Rubber sandals are the only footwear, and each prisoner’s hair is covered with a cap made from a woman's nylon stocking.
HUMILIATION
Each prisoner is systematically searched and stripped naked. Then they are deloused with a spray in case they’re harboring germs or lice, the boys feel humiliated.
More than 70 applicants answered that ad. Every one was subjected to a diagnostic interview and personality tests to eliminate candidates with psychological problems, medical disabilities, or a history of crime or drug abuse. Those that passed are offered $15/day to participate.

The study of prison life begins with an average group of healthy, intelligent, middle-class males
. The boys are arbitrarily divided into two groups by a flip of the coin. Half are assigned to be guards, the rest to be prisoners.
VOLUNTEERS
What the suspect and 23 others had done was to answer a local newspaper ad calling for volunteers in a study of the psychological effects of prison life. The experiment, run by Professor Philip Zimbardo aims to observe the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. To do this, he has set up a fake prison with the intention of carefully noting the effects of the institution and the behavior within its walls.
A QUIET SUNDAY MORNING IN 1971...
August 14th, California. A police car sweeps through the Palo Alto before arriving at the door of a college student. Their officers inside are here to arrest him for a violation of Penal Code 211 – Armed Robbery, and Burglary.


FIRST PRISONER RELEASED
Less than 36 hours into the experiment, Prisoner #8612 suffers from acute emotional disturbance, disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying, and rage. In spite of all of this, staff are worried that he is trying to "con" them – to fool them into releasing him.

A consultant interviews Prisoner #8612, and chides him for being so weak. He tells him of the kind of abuse he could expect from the guards and the prisoners if he were in San Quentin Prison. #8612 is given the offer of becoming an informant in exchange for no further guard harassment. He is told to think it over.

During the next count, Prisoner #8612 tells the other prisoners,
"You can't leave. You can't quit."
This sends a chilling message to the other prisoners.
Then, #8612 then starts to act "crazy," he screams, curses, and flies into a rage that seems out of control. It takes the staff quite a while before they become convinced that he was really suffering and had to be released.


The visitors arrive, full of good humor at what seems to be a novel, fun experience. They are asked to register, made to wait half an hour, and are told that only two visitors could see any one prisoner. Visiting time is limited to ten minutes, and placed under the surveillance of a guard. Before any parents can enter the visiting area, they are forced to discuss their son's case with the Warden. Of course, parents complain about these arbitrary rules, but remarkably, they comply. And so they, too, became players in the prison drama.
“I’ve never seen her son looking so bad
.”
"What's the matter with your boy? Doesn't he sleep well? Don't you think your boy can handle this?"
"Of course he can – he's a real tough kid, a leader.

Come on Honey, we've wasted enough time already."
Some of the parents get upset when they see how fatigued and distressed their sons are. But their reaction is to work within the system and to appeal privately to the Superintendent to make conditions better for their boy.
CONSTRUCTION
The prison is constructed of boarded up corridors in the basement of Stanford's Psychology Department building. The corridor is designated as "The Yard" and is the only outside place where prisoners are allowed to walk, eat, or exercise.
Access to the toilet comes with an escort
and a blindfold. The cells are laboratory rooms fitted with specially made doors featuring steel bars and cell numbers.

At one end of the hall is a small opening through which a videotape records events as they unfold. On the side of the corridor opposite the cells is
a small closet designated as “the hole” and reserved for solitary confinement
. Two feet wide and two feet deep, but tall enough for a "bad prisoner" to stand up, it is dark and destitute.
An intercom system allows the staff to listen into life in the cells and monitor prisoner discussions, as well as to make announcements to the inhabitants. There are no windows or clocks with which to judge the passage of time.
With everything in place, the “jail” is ready to receive its first prisoners, who were waiting in the detention cells of the Palo Alto Police Department.
A STATE OF SHOCK
Blindfolded and in a state of mild shock over their surprise arrest by the city police, our prisoners are put into a car and driven to the "Stanford County Jail" for further processing. The prisoners are then brought in and greeted by the warden one at a time. The warden tells them of the seriousness of their offense and their new status as prisoners.
SPECIAL PRIVILEGES
The rebellion is temporarily crushed, but now a new problem faces the guards. Nine guards with clubs could put down nine rebellious prisoners, but you can’t have nine guards on duty at all times. One of the guards comes up with a solution.
"Let's use psychological tactics instead of physical ones."
One of the three cells was designated as a "privilege cell." The three prisoners least involved in the rebellion were given special privileges. They got their uniforms back, got their beds back, and were allowed to wash and brush their teeth. Privileged prisoners get to eat special food in the presence of the others.
This breaks the prisoner’s solidarity.
Terminated on August 20th, 1971
Brought back to life on July 17th, 2015
As soon as the prisoners are put into uniform they begin to walk, sit, and hold themselves differently
.
The chain on their foot reminds the prisoners, even when they sleep, that they can’t escape the atmosphere of oppression.

Each prisoner is called only by his ID number
and could only refer to himself and the other prisoners by number.
At this point
it becomes clear that the study had to end
. An overwhelmingly powerful situation had been created. A situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of
the guards were behaving sadistically
. Even the "good" guards felt helpless to intervene.
Full transcript