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Stanford Prison Psychology Experiment

By Anonymous 7324 in MLP
Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 04:33:05 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

FARK.COM posted a link today to the Stanford Prison Experiment, an experiment in prison psychology in which Stanford psychologists took volunteers, arrested them randomly, and then put them in a realistic prison environment to judge the effects.


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Interesting observations are made about the prisoners, the guards, the parents of the volunteers, and even the outside lawyer and priest(!) who come in to play their role. Lastly, honest observations about the experimentalist himself and his role.

45+ pages of slides and text.

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Stanford Prison Psychology Experiment | 30 comments (23 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
Some more (none / 0) (#5)
by fvw on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 12:15:12 PM EST

Interesting stuff, here's a related link: Coalition for the Abolition of Prisons


Who is this cap guy? (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by NightHawk on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 12:38:08 PM EST

He believes prisons should be abolished? Yet he is in prison for life, having already served 25 years.

i read the about section, and he doesn't really make clear what the perfect solution is, and instead makes claims that we should abolish capitolism (which is probably a more valid point then his "abolish prison" idea).

[ Parent ]
Violation of Rights? (none / 0) (#7)
by Crashnbur on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 12:37:22 PM EST

This is a very interesting experiment, but I am surprised that there isn't a cloud of contraversy surrounding it. Simulating arrests? Volunteers or not, these people are having their freedom stolen for brief periods of time as subjects of an experiment. I don't know about you guys, but I see some violations of rights in there...

I'm not going to raise a big fuss about that, for the experiment and its results are incredibly interesting. Besides, Stanford is the leading school of Psychology, or so I'm convinced, so I guess they're allowed a little more than the rest of us when it comes to things like this.

I wonder what was in the fine print of the contracts these "volunteers" signed...

crash.neotope.com


They could have quit.. (4.33 / 3) (#11)
by BigZaphod on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 01:43:13 PM EST

It was mentioned on the site that they could have quit. In the part about the parole hearing they mentioned how all of the prisioners totaly missed the fact that they could have simply quit the experiment. Part of what is scary about this is how easily and quickly normal people (who *knew* they didn't do anything wrong) got brainwashed by the system into believing they had no choice.

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
Informed consent (4.50 / 2) (#12)
by flieghund on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 01:55:04 PM EST

From this page:

As with real prisoners, our prisoners expected some harassment, to have their privacy and some of their other civil rights violated while they were in prison, and to get a minimally adequate diet -- all part of their informed consent agreement when they volunteered. [emphasis mine]

So it seems that the volunteers were aware of the possibility of Bad Things happening. Signing away personal rights is perfectly legal and happens all the time -- every time you sign an NDA, for example, you're voluntarily giving up your free speech rights. As long as the person signing the paper understands what it is they are signing, and are free to walk away without signing it, there should be no problem. And from what is written elsewhere on the web site, it seems as though all involved went through a fairly detailed screening process (whittling down 70 applicants to 24 participants), during which time I would imagine questions like "Would you object to being stripped naked for purposes of this experiment?" undoubtedly came up.



Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Plenty of Controversy (none / 0) (#14)
by scruffyMark on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 03:40:14 PM EST

This experiment raised a great deal of controversy at the time it was carried out. It led to a major reassessment of the way psychological experiments are carried out, and to far more rigourous screening of all experiments involving human subjects.

[ Parent ]
Rights? (none / 0) (#22)
by Alarmist on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 09:33:33 AM EST

This is a very interesting experiment, but I am surprised that there isn't a cloud of contraversy surrounding it. Simulating arrests? Volunteers or not, these people are having their freedom stolen for brief periods of time as subjects of an experiment. I don't know about you guys, but I see some violations of rights in there...

This is why reputable psychologists get their experiments cleared by an ethics board before they go ahead. The entire reason why we have ethics boards is because of studies done in the 1950s and before, in which test subjects actually did have their rights violated.

The reason why this experiment passed is because everyone involved knew about what was going to happen. The experiment was halted early because the effects were so profound on everyone involved, "prisoners" and "guards" alike.

To sum up, there was no rights violation here.


[ Parent ]

Wouldn't be allowed now!!! (none / 0) (#30)
by hughk on Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 09:59:52 AM EST

The same comment was made about Milgram's Obediance experiment. However, despite the terrible experience that the subjects had, the results are extremely important to the understanding of humans under stress. Now all expirements involving human subjects have to pass an ethics comittee. No longer can it be said that mice are treated better.

Whether it was the fact that most people will blindly follow an authoritative figure or that the roles of prisoner vs. guard are automatic and need attention if a prisoner is to change.

Just think what it meant to be one of the "Guards". I think it is probably these along with those of Milgram's experiment who turned the voltage up full who would need the most treatment afterwards. This would be the time when you learn what is bad about yourself.

[ Parent ]

Psychological Experiments... (5.00 / 2) (#13)
by ucblockhead on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 02:53:57 PM EST

It is important to remember when reading about psychological experiements like this that knowledge of the experimenters and subjects pollutes the results. This experiment is about as good at testing people's reactions to prison as "Survivor" is at testing group dynamics in survival situations.

When subjects know they are being experimented on, you are at great risk of discovering not the actual facts of how people react, but rather, the subconcious beliefs of the subjects of how people will react.

For all the real trappings, this is nothing but role-playing. It is like looking at a D&D session, hoping for insights into how medieval people lived.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

Simulate a simulation... (none / 0) (#16)
by jasonab on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 10:31:59 PM EST

When subjects know they are being experimented on, you are at great risk of discovering not the actual facts of how people react, but rather, the subconcious beliefs of the subjects of how people will react.
In fact, it seems the "prison" was set up the same way -- to reflect the predjudices of the professor. He included various rituals gleaned from various places, and added others to "simulate" various feeling the prisoners "should have" (such as the dress and the stocking on the head). At what point are you simply simulating a simulation?

This entire experiement (and this isn't the first time I've read about it) reminds me of a "game" I've played on retreats before. The group is divided into small groups of 5-6, and it is announced that the camp is cut off from the outside world, and each group must pick one person from the group to leave/survive. This is supposed to get people to think about how they would personally sacrifice in such a situation, but ends up being an intellectual exercise in who "should be rescued" based on various factors (family, age, ability, etc).



--
America is a great country. One of the freest in the world. -- greenrd
[ Parent ]

Psychological Experiments (none / 0) (#18)
by DJBongHit on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 03:39:30 AM EST

It is important to remember when reading about psychological experiements like this that knowledge of the experimenters and subjects pollutes the results.
This is true, but it's also illegal (I'm 99% sure, it may just be against the rules of ethics for psychology, but I'm pretty sure it's illegal) to experiment on people who don't know that they're being experimented on. This makes it more difficult to do psychological testing, but it also reduces the harm that psychological experiments can do to the subjects. Before these rules were put into place, it was common for subjects to have permanent (or at least long-standing) psychological problems because of an experiment that was performed on them without their knowledge.

Take this experiment as an example - if you were walking down the street one day, grabbed, arrested, and thrown into jail for a week and had no idea why, you'd probably be pretty shaken up afterwards, and may have some kind of psychological repercussions.

~DJBongHit

--
GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

[ Parent ]
How they sometimes get around it... (none / 0) (#23)
by ucblockhead on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 11:24:39 AM EST

In a lot of experiments, they use a fake-out method where they pretend they are testing you on something unrelated. For instance, someone interested in testing the effects of violent videogames on behavior might tell subjects that they are studying the effects of video-games on reaction times.

They can only do that when the particular type of experiment isn't brutal, though.
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This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Hmm (none / 0) (#28)
by DJBongHit on Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 09:40:18 AM EST

In a lot of experiments, they use a fake-out method where they pretend they are testing you on something unrelated. For instance, someone interested in testing the effects of violent videogames on behavior might tell subjects that they are studying the effects of video-games on reaction times.

They can only do that when the particular type of experiment isn't brutal, though.
Yeah, but even so, the subject knows he's being observed for something, so you can't get a true reading. It's better than the alternative though :)

~DJBongHit

--
GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

[ Parent ]
The Priest... (none / 0) (#15)
by Blarney on Sun Feb 18, 2001 at 08:36:51 PM EST

The authors seem to indicate that the Priest was not an actor, but was in fact genuine and ordained. If so, why did he play along with the experiment? Rather then suggesting fictional "lawyers", he should have been examining the students for signs of psychological stress, and helping them get through the experiment - or leave it! - as well as he could! He should have been acting compassionately, in his role as one who obeys divine rules over all mere human games.

Instead, he propagates the fictional "prison" story.

I find the Priest to be the most interesting character, perhaps, because he loses his grip on reality without even a fight. While the subjects only lose their awareness that the situation is artificial after they are played off against each other, after much psychological battery, the Priest simply walks into the lab and starts playing the game.

Does this have anything to do with his religious training?



Not realistic (none / 0) (#17)
by driptray on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 01:55:49 AM EST

...and then put them in a realistic prison environment...

Maybe prison is just a little bit tougher than presented here. For example, how about violent rape and years of forced sex.

Or try reading a fuller, more academic treatment of the same subject.


--
We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
The validity of this experiment. (none / 0) (#19)
by lonesmurf on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 06:08:49 AM EST

I rarely post (although I read every article), but I felt that I have something to contribute, so here goes:

My dad was in prison for just over seven years, for the most part of his twenties. He was incarcerated for grand theft auto, and trying to slip draft during the Vietnam War by taking the stolen car across the border to mexico (stupid, stupid, stupid). From some of the things he has told me, I got the impression that being in prison is probably one of the worst places in the world to be. Somewhere to avoid being, at all costs.

I am sharing this because when I read this slide, I immediately realised that while these experiments are interesting and have an interesting outcome and value, they are intrinsically biased and are not a true representation of prison life. I know this because some of my dad's stories involved the drug life in prison and just how many loonies there were. The fact that these two groups were excluded from this test skews the results in a way that is unforseeable.

Realising both that this was just a simulation and that the 'wardens' were responsible for the safety of their 'inmates', I put this all aside and read the rest of the slideshow, and was duly impressed. Very cool from a psychological point of view.


Rami

I am not a jolly man. Remove the mirth from my email to send.


I just wanted to say one last thing.. (none / 0) (#20)
by lonesmurf on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 06:19:31 AM EST

As this slide shows, it's not just the loonies that are crazy to begin with, you have to watch out for the people that lose it while in the prison.


Rami

I am not a jolly man. Remove the mirth from my email to send.


[ Parent ]
I think that's part of the point... (none / 0) (#27)
by Estanislao Martínez on Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 12:56:28 AM EST

I am sharing this because when I read this slide, I immediately realised that while these experiments are interesting and have an interesting outcome and value, they are intrinsically biased and are not a true representation of prison life.

But still, there's the issue of which way they are biased... Volunteers with psychological issues could have made the experiment even riskier.

And I think one of the important factors about the experiment was that the guards and the inmates were chosen to be roughly the same kind of people. Same ages, socioeconomic level, education, no psychological problems, good families, etc. This is another unrealistic element, but it makes the experiment much more forceful and dramatic.

--em
[ Parent ]

Worthy link (none / 0) (#21)
by leviathan on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 07:45:36 AM EST

(although it's hardly mindless, for the record)

This, along with the Milgram experiment (where subjects are asked to apply potentially lethal levels of electic shocks by authority figures in order to 'teach') are the two studies that anyone who reads k5 (and is interested in the culture side of things at all) should be familiar with.

--
I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert

Pain and Pleasure (none / 0) (#24)
by ucblockhead on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 11:31:28 AM EST

What is really facinating about those experiments is that when they ran another version where instead of electric shocks, the knob was supposed to be attached to some sort of electric pleasure given device to be used as a "reward".

The percentage of people who balked at turning the knob under those conditions was far, far higher.

In other words, a lot of people who can be talked into torturing someone by an authority figure cannot be talked giving someone pleasure under the same conditions.
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This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Err...what sort of reward? (none / 0) (#25)
by leviathan on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 12:05:31 PM EST

Electric shock is straightforward - the subject is delivering pain with a risk of injury or death. When it comes to pleasure...exactly what sort of pleasure are you talking about here? Most that come to mind have various other connotations associated with them which make them not so clear cut.

Anyway, have you got a link?

--
I wish everyone was peaceful. Then I could take over the planet with a butter knife.
- Dogbert
[ Parent ]

No links... (none / 0) (#26)
by ucblockhead on Mon Feb 19, 2001 at 12:31:19 PM EST

Unfortunately, I learned about this way back when I was a psychology major, long before the web. If I get time, I'll try to find links.

The "reward" was some pseudo-scientific crap about pleasure giving electrical signals.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Milgram Experiment (none / 0) (#29)
by DJBongHit on Tue Feb 20, 2001 at 09:43:05 AM EST

Wasn't the Milgram experiment what prompted the creation of the psychological testing laws (or guidelines, if they're not actually laws)? I seem to remember learning that in high school, but I may be thinking of something else.

~DJBongHit

--
GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

[ Parent ]
Stanford Prison Psychology Experiment | 30 comments (23 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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