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Sticky: An interesting read.... The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.
6 years ago  ::  May 30, 2008 - 9:30AM #1
DAH54
Posts: 3,318
Some of you might find this an interesting read, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Philip Zimbardo However I strongly suspect that those who would gain the most from it will not even click on the link. :)



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6 years ago  ::  May 30, 2008 - 11:48AM #2
mindis1
Posts: 7,886
It does indeed sound like an interesting book, and the Stanford Prison Experiment would seem one of the more important contributions to the field of psychology.  I certainly agree (as many other people on this board have also) with the primary conclusion from the Prison experiment:

that situations may be more powerful determinants of behavior than the personality traits of the people involved.

Given the results of the experiment, is it any wonder that such a large number of people released from prison go on to re-offend?

I am also glad to see that Zimbardo acknowledges that his experiment “crossed ethical lines”--even though it was unintentional, and he aborted the experiment after only six days. 

I would have liked to have heard more about the last chapter, in which the article states:

Zimbardo seamlessly demonstrates how the same social psychology that may exploit our worst instincts can be reconstrued to cultivate the best in ourselves. Altruism, like evil, is readily responsive to situational forces, and Zimbardo suggests strategies for tapping into these potentialities.

I suppose I’ll have to read the book.
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6 years ago  ::  May 30, 2008 - 12:01PM #3
Marcyy
Posts: 723
I read of this experiment some time ago and had a discussion about it with my son, who has been in law enforcement most of his adult life. He has been a state prison guard for the last 15 years.

He was appalled at this experiment. If it was to be done, it should have been done by professionals, not some bunch of amateurs. The thing was doomed for failure from the very beginning. He picked it apart line by line. I truly wish I had kept his critique, it was devastating and so right on the mark.
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6 years ago  ::  May 30, 2008 - 1:40PM #4
DAH54
Posts: 3,318

Marcyy wrote:

I read of this experiment some time ago and had a discussion about it with my son, who has been in law enforcement most of his adult life. He has been a state prison guard for the last 15 years.

He was appalled at this experiment. If it was to be done, it should have been done by professionals, not some bunch of amateurs. The thing was doomed for failure from the very beginning. He picked it apart line by line. I truly wish I had kept his critique, it was devastating and so right on the mark.


You might be surprised to learn that it was approved by, the Stanford Human Subjects Review Committee, the Stanford Psychology Department, and the Group Effectiveness Branch of the Office of Naval Research. In addition, the Student Health Department was alerted to the study and prior arrangements were made for any medical care the participants might need.

In 1973 Professor Zimbardo asked the American Psychological Association to conduct an ethics evaluation, and the APA concluded that all existing ethical guidelines had been followed.

David Jaffe, an undergraduate research associate who played the role of prison warden, is now a professor of pediatrics at Washington University.
Curtis Banks, a graduate student researcher, became the first African American psychology professor to receive tenure at Princeton University.
Craig Haney, a graduate student researcher, became a psychology professor at UC--Santa Cruz and is a leading expert on prison conditions.
Christina Malach, a former graduate student who helped ended the study early, is now a psychology professor and vice provost at UC--Berkeley.
Philip Zimbardo, who served as principle investigator and prison superintendent, became APA President in 2001 and is now a professor emeritus at Stanford University

The most and least abusive guards did not differ significantly in authoritarianism, Machiavellianism, or other personality measures. Abusive guard behavior appears to have been triggered by features of the situation rather than by the personality of guards.


Perhaps a little more than just a bunch of amateurs.


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6 years ago  ::  Jun 02, 2008 - 11:42AM #5
Marcyy
Posts: 723
I have been thinking about the Stanford experiment and I think my objection is partly the amateurish of the whole thing, but also that the setting was totally wrong. They took two groups and isolated them, one almost thinks of William Goldman's "Lord of the Flies." Where you have an isolated situation, nothing is truly normal, and instincts and basic survival take over, so they are reduced to a different level of humanity.

In a jail or prison there are many people to interplay with one another. Unless an inmate is being punished by being placed in the "hole" are is isolated for some reason, there is a larger structure the inmates must fit into. This aspect was ignored in the experiment. I believe this to be a major flaw in the experiment.

I am going to do more reading on the subject to see if anyone else came up with the same thoughts.
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6 years ago  ::  May 30, 2008 - 11:56PM #6
Marcyy
Posts: 723
It was a very badly flawed construction.
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6 years ago  ::  Jun 01, 2008 - 9:32PM #7
Marcyy
Posts: 723
It is flawed because it was done by a bunch of amateurs, why didn't they use real guards and real inmates? Or at least get the advice of real guards and prison officials. They took a bunch of college kids, and put them into a situation they knew nothing about. They proved nothing.

from: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-was-the-st … riment.htm

"Over the years, a number of criticisms of the Stanford Prison Experiment have been included in various studies and scholarly works. Charges that the structure of the experiment led to conclusions that were subjective and unscientific in many cases have been common, although the experiment does continue to have the support of a few social psychologists."
                                            --------------------------

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_p … experiment
   


Criticism of the experiment

The experiment was widely criticized as being unethical and bordering on unscientific. Current ethical standards of psychology would not permit such a study to be conducted today. The study would violate the American Psychological Associate Ethics Code, the Canadian Code of Conduct for Research Involving Humans, and the Belmont Report. Critics including Erich Fromm challenged how readily the results of the experiment could be generalized. Fromm specifically writes about how the personality of an individual does in fact affect behaviour when imprisoned (using historical examples from the Nazi concentration camps). This runs counter to the study's conclusion that the prison situation itself controls the individual's behaviour. Fromm also argues that the amount of sadism in the "normal" subjects could not be determined with the methods employed to screen them. Because it was a field experiment, it was impossible to keep traditional scientific controls. Zimbardo was not merely a neutral observer, but influenced the direction of the experiment as its "superintendent". Conclusions and observations drawn by the experimenters were largely subjective and anecdotal, and the experiment would be difficult for other researchers to reproduce.
One of the most abused prisoners, #416, and the guard known as "John Wayne", who was one of the most abusive guards, confront each other in an "encounter session" two months later.


Some of the experiment's critics argued that participants based their behaviour on how they were expected to behave, or modelled it after stereotypes they already had about the behaviour of prisoners and guards. In other words, the participants were merely engaging in role-playing. Another problem with the experiment was certain guards, such as "John Wayne", changed their behaviour because of wanting to conform to the behaviour that they thought Zimbardo was trying to elicit. In response, Zimbardo claimed that even if there was role-playing initially, participants internalized these roles as the experiment continued. Additionally, it was criticized on the basis of ecological validity. Many of the conditions imposed in the experiment were arbitrary and may not have correlated with actual prison conditions, including blindfolding incoming "prisoners", not allowing them to wear underwear, not allowing them to look out of windows and not allowing them to use their names. Zimbardo argued that prison is a confusing and dehumanizing experience and that it was necessary to enact these procedures to put the "prisoners" in the proper frame of mind; however, it is difficult to know how similar the effects were to an actual prison, and the experiment's methods would be difficult to reproduce exactly so that others could test them. Some said that the study was too deterministic: reports described significant differences in the cruelty of the guards, the worst of whom came to be nicknamed "John Wayne." (This guard alleges he started the escalation of events between "guards" and "prisoners" after he began to emulate a character from the Paul Newman film Cool Hand Luke. He further intensified his actions because he was nicknamed "John Wayne" though he was trying to mimic actor Strother Martin who played the role of the sadistic "Captain" in the movie.[3]) Other guards were kinder and often did favours for prisoners. Zimbardo made no attempt to explain or account for these differences. Also, it has been argued that selection bias may have played a role in the results. Researchers from Western Kentucky University recruited students for a study using an advertisement similar to the one used in the Stanford Prison Experiment, with and without the words "prison life." It was found that students volunteering for a prison life study possessed dispositions toward abusive behavior. Lastly, the sample size was very small, with only 24 participants taking part over a relatively short period of time. This reality means that it is difficult to generalise across a wider scale. Also, the sample selection only contained males, meaning that the sample then is 'androcentric' again, leading to a lack of representativeness. [edit] Haslam and Reicher

Alex Haslam and Steve Reicher (2003), psychologists from the University of Exeter and University of St Andrews, conducted a partial replication of the experiment with the assistance of the BBC, who broadcast scenes from the study as a reality TV program called The Experiment. Their results and conclusions differed from Zimbardo's and led to a number of publications on tyranny, stress and leadership (moreover, unlike results from the SPE, these were published in leading academic journals; e.g., British Journal of Social Psychology, Journal of Applied Psychology, Social Psychology Quarterly). While their procedure was not a direct replication of Zimbardo's, their study does cast further doubt on the generality of his conclusions. Specifically, it questions the notion that people slip mindlessly into role and the idea that the dynamics of evil are in any way banal. Their research also points to the importance of leadership in the emergence of tyranny (of the form displayed by Zimbardo when briefing guards in the Stanford experiment).[4]

[edit] Comparisons to Abu Ghraib

When the Abu Ghraib military prisoner torture and abuse scandal was published in March 2004, many observers immediately were struck by its similarities to the Stanford Prison experiment — among them, Philip Zimbardo, who paid close attention to the details of the story. He was dismayed by official military and government efforts shifting the blame for the torture and abuses in the Abu Ghraib American military prison on to "a few bad apples" rather than acknowledging it as possibly systemic problems of a formally established military incarceration system. Eventually, Zimbardo became involved with the defense team of lawyers representing Abu Ghraib prison guard Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick. He had full access to all investigation and background reports, testifying as an expert witness in SSG Frederick's court martial, resulting in an eight-year prison sentence for Frederick in October 2004. Zimbardo drew on his knowledge gained from participating in SSG Frederick's case to write The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, (Random House, 2007), dealing with the many alleged connections between the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Abu Ghraib abuses.[2]

[edit] Similar incidents

In April 2007, it was reported[5] that high-school students in Waxahachie, Texas who were participating in a role-playing exercise fell into a similar abusive pattern of behaviour as exhibited in the original experiment. In 2002, as mentioned above, the BBC conducted a similar experiment in The Experiment
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6 years ago  ::  Jun 03, 2008 - 6:03PM #8
mindis1
Posts: 7,886
Marcy, of all the criticisms you’ve noted here, these seem to me to be the two most serious:

Zimbardo was not merely a neutral observer, but influenced the direction of the experiment as its "superintendent". Conclusions and observations drawn by the experimenters were largely subjective and anecdotal, and the experiment would be difficult for other researchers to reproduce.

A good portion of the criticisms you’ve noted concern the idea that the “prisoners” and “guards” were “role-playing,” thus implying that this is not what really happens in prison situations.  But, in fact, one can’t claim that this same kind of role-playing doesn’t happen particularly among real prison guards--and to a prisoner, a “role-playing guard” is about the same thing as an abusive guard who isn’t “role-playing”.  But besides this, the results of the exercise by the Texas high school students would seem to be consistent with the idea that role-playing in such situations, and the effects of such role-playing, would be similar to what was found in the SPE--that is, that the SPE didn’t create an anomalous situation.

You’ve criticized the SPE because it conducted by “a bunch of amateurs”.  But actual prison guards generally get very little training, and very little education is required.  Other than this, there is no “professional training” for being a prisoner.

It is true that the SPE had a small sample size.  You also noted, “the sample selection only contained males, meaning that the sample then is 'androcentric' again, leading to a lack of representativeness.”  But prisons are very much “androcentric” in this same way:  the large majority of prisoners are male; prisons are sex-segregated, and I’m certain that in male prisons the vast majority of guards are male. 

Mostly it seems the criticisms you’ve offered have been of the effect that “the experiment and observations might not be representative of prisoners and guards.”  But this also means that the experiment might kind of reflect imprisonment and the experiences of prisoners and guards.  At least, it might give us a rough idea.

The factor that impressed me was the prisoners offering to give up their pay in order to be let out of the experiment, despite knowing that they would have gotten their pay regardless of whether they remained in the experiment or not.  This just doesn’t sound like role-playing to me.  It sounds like someone who is actually distressed by his situation.

In any case, maybe it would be worthwhile to summarize and list the most serious critiques of the experiment, including any additional ones you may find. 

There are certainly going to be plenty of critiques of any such field experiment.  Critiques of more controlled experiments are rather the same--that they don’t create realistic conditions.
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6 years ago  ::  Jun 03, 2008 - 6:05PM #9
mindis1
Posts: 7,886

mastîm wrote:

Well, the one critisism I doi have about the SPE is that it was college students guarding college students.  I don't know how valid the results would be if you wanted to compare the results to a bunch of 50-year-olds.  Personally, I notice that older people are less pack-minded, and the most pack-minded age group is young adults.  So the results of SPE might be more dramatic simply by using 18-24 year-olds.


Your critique probably has some merit:  50-year-olds are probably less “pack-minded”.  But my guess is that there are probably a lot more younger prison guards (< 35 years old) than there are older prison guards.

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6 years ago  ::  Jun 03, 2008 - 7:47PM #10
solfeggio
Posts: 9,322
I clicked on the link.  It didn't come up, so I don't know what this study was all about.  Prisoners and prison guards, I suppose.  Don't know anything about them.

What I do know is that online chat rooms and discussions and debates will turn people mean and ugly, because the people in these groups are not thought of as real people at all, but just meaningless names.  Cyphers.  Nonentities. 

People who have had heretofore friendly online or email relationships will turn against one another, and individuals who are perfectly nice in face-to-face daily encounters in their 'real' lives will become cold and judgmental, and even vicious when they are posting online.

In my experience, this is what 'The Lucifer Effect' is all about.
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