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Stanford Experiment Essay, Research Paper

English 101-02

December 5, 1996

A Critique Of the Stanford Experiment

“The Education of a Torturer” is an account of experiments that has similar results

to that of Milgram’s obedience experimentsthat were performed in 1963. Though both

experiments vary drastically, both have one grim outcome, that is that, “it is ordinary

people, not psychopaths, who become the Eichmanns of history.”

The Stanford experiment was performed by psychologists Craig Haney, W. Curtis

Banks, and Philip Zimbardo. Their goal was to find out if ordinary people could become

abusive if given the power to do so. The results of the six day experiment are chilling. The

experiment took ordinary college students and had some agree to be prisoners and the rest

would be guards for the prisoners. Both groups received no training on what to do or act

like. They had to get all of their knowledge of what to do from outside sources, such as

television and movies. The guards were given uniforms and night sticks and told to act

like an ordinary guard would. The prisoners were treated like normal criminals. They

were finger printed and booked, after that they were told to put on prison uniforms and

then they were thrown into the slammer (in this case a simulated cellblock in the

basement was used). All of the participants in this experiment at first were thought to be

similar in behavior but after one week, all of that changed. The prisoners became

“passive, dependent, and helpless.” The guards on the other hand were the exact

opposite. They became “aggressive and abusive within the prison, insulting and bullying

the prisoners.”

After the experiment was finished, many of the mock guards said that they enjoyed

the power. Others said that they had no idea that they were capable of being so corrupt.

The experimenter was shocked at the results as well saying, “It was degrading….To me,

those things are sick. But they (the prisoners) did everything I said. They abused each

other because I requested them to. No one questioned my authority at all.”

I have a hard time believing the statement that they experimenter said. He had

reviewed the work of Stanley Milgram’s experiment and how individuals became so

violent. Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo had to of known that if they gave the power to take

control of a situation the guards that the power would be abused. The experiment took

place in 1986 and though there had been many years passed since Milgram’s experiment

was conducted in 1963, people then and still today try to get to the top of every situation.

In this case, the guards were given the power, and it probably took a day or so before they

began to abuse they power and abuse the inmates. If only they experiment would have

been conducted a year later, Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo may have been able to foresee

the outcome by reading Robert Reich’s “An American Morality” which includes a parable

entitled “Rot at the Top.” The last line in the parable just goes to prove my point, “Power

corrupts, privilege perverts.” I agree with this totally because I can’t think of anytime that

I have seen somebody not take advantage of the power given to them in some way or form.

Haney, Banks, and Zimbardo did have one good thing come out of this

experiment. That is that they used ordinary people just like Milgram years earlier and put

them to the test. They subjects obviously failed because all of them showed that, “it is

ordinary people, not psychopaths, who become the Eichmanns of history.”


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