Ethical issues have often created opposing views in the fields of criminal justice and psychology. This is especially true when research is being considered or conducted. The Stanford Prison Experiment is an excellent example of how research can become derailed. The experiment raised ethical questions for the conductors of the experiment as well as for the participants. The media reported the experiment to be unethical and barbaric on many levels, but those conducting the experiment were able to ascertain certain facts bearing a great influence on the cause and effects of specific human behaviors.
In any proposed research, there must be a strict code of ethics to be followed by everyone involved, especially when human beings are the test subjects. Background Dr. Zimbardo was a psychology professor at Stanford University in the early 1970’s. During this time, he and several of his colleagues began to question the behaviors of individuals in a controlled environment. Questions were raised in reference to how much of an effect a controlled environment would have on one’s reaction to the negative situation, and how one’s behavior is based on the individual regardless of the present environment.
These hypotheses were tested in what is now known as The Stanford Prison Experiment (Maxfield & Babbie, 2009). The experiment itself was to last over a period of two weeks. Twenty-one subjects were chosen to participate after completing the screening process (Zimbardo, 2008). The idea of the experiment was to create a make-shift prison in one of the basement corridors of the university, and then observe the behaviors of the participants in their assigned roles.
Some of the participants were to be prison guards while the others were to be prisoners. Dr. Zimbardo found CRIMINOLOGY 3 himself in the dual role of both experiment conductor and experimental prison superintendant (Zimbardo, 2008). The only identity was the guards wearing khaki uniforms and sunglasses and prisoners wearing white shirts with numbers.
The first day of the experiment went by uneventful, but the second day, the prisoners began rebelling. As punishment, one prisoner was put into solitary confinement and the other prisoners were awaken at all hours of the day and night and forced to perform physical exercises, line up, and clean toilets with their bare hands. One prisoner chose to leave the experiment at this time. On day three, one of Dr. Zimbardo’s colleagues questions the independent variable of the experiment, but did not receive an answer (Duke, 2003).
By day four, the prisoners began to lose their personal identity. One prisoner went on a hunger strike. On day five, four prisoners chose to exit the experiment. Dr. Maslach, a colleague of Zimbardo, visited the experiment and became outraged at what she saw (Duke, 2003). The experiment ended on day six due to ethical indifferences combined with the inhumane treatment of the human prisoner test subjects. Analysis There are seven critical items in the code of ethics in research that must be adhered to when using human subjects.
These ethical rules clearly suggest the following: no harm must come to the participants, participation must be voluntary, anonymity and confidentiality must be protected, researchers may not deceive test subjects, the test analysis and reports must be accurate and not falsified in any way, and special issues must be taken into consideration. These special issues include misbehavior on the part of the staff, possible research causing criminal behavior, withholding treatment, and mandated reporting (Maxfield & Babbie, 2009).
For the most part, The Stanford Prison Experiment was obedient to the outlined code of ethics. CRIMINOLOGY 4 No true physical harm was ever brought against any of the prisoner subjects, and the minor inconveniences such as interrupted sleep, name calling, and physical exercises did not cause any lingering health issues. Each participant agreed to participate by signing a contract to do so at the rate of $15 per day (Zimbardo, 2008).
Neither the guards nor the prisoners revealed any true identity during the experiment. The guards were referred to as correctional officers, and the prisoners were referred to by the number assigned to their uniforms. Zimbardo and his colleagues cited the problems resulting in the ending of the experiment earlier than expected. These problems, including the absence of an independent variable, were included in the final analysis of the experiment. There were no legal liability topics before, during, or at the conclusion of the experiment. Discussion
It is clear that The Stanford Prison Experiment had good intentions, but it is a painful fact that these intentions became lost amidst the roles assigned to the participants. The participants were not made aware of the true nature by which the experiment was being conducted. Instead, the prisoners were under the assumption that the behavior of the guards was the topic being researched and vice versa (Bachman & Schutt, 2010). This partial disclosure creates the ethical concern of deception. There were obvious special ethical issues involved during the experiment.
Since the guards were in an authoritative role, their misbehavior created an unnecessary level of treatment towards the participants who were prisoners. Some prisoners needed psychiatric evaluation during the short six days, but were encouraged to remain in the experiment rather than allowing them to leave (Duke, 2003). The verbal abuse asserted against the prisoners by the guards was CRIMINOLOGY 5 inexcusable as was their profane language.
The misbehavior of the staff includes the conductors of the experiment as well. The conductors allowed the participants in the role as guards to make-up the rules as they went along. There was not a clear and definitive set of boundaries outlined for all the participants before the commencement of the experiment. Dr. Maslach noted that the human test subjects were mistreated verbally, emotionally, and physically (Duke, 2003). It has been further noted by other researchers that Dr. Zimbardo should not have allowed himself to be in the dual role of experiment conductor and prison superintendant (Bachman & Schutt, 2010). Conclusion
At the conclusion of The Stanford Prison Experiment, it was painfully obvious that a negative environment can change one’s behavior in a negative way. Those who participated as guards enjoyed being in a position of authority. The prisoners were degraded in many ways making their participation unbearable and regrettable. In the eye of the public, the experiment was a complete failure due to the perceived unethical and inhumane treatment of some of the participants. Researchers wishing to test criminal justice hypotheses and psychological theories should educate themselves as to the critical code of ethics encompassing the research process.
Human test subjects voluntarily place themselves in a role of being studied and researched for the betterment of mankind. To take advantage of their willingness to aid in scientific advancement and understanding is nothing short of unethical. Any level of scientific research being conducted should be carefully assessed and critiqued for methods, designs, and prepare for any problem or special circumstance before beginning. Ethics provides that human dignity and personal integrity be protected in any instance or situation at all times. References
Bachman, R. , & Schutt, R. (2010). The practice of research in criminology and criminal justice (4th ed. ). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Duke, K. (Producer). (2003). Stanford Prison Experiment (Documental). Retrieved from http://video. google. com/videoplay? doicd=67708498837912906# Maxfield, M. , & Babbie, E. (2009). Basics of research methods for criminal justice and criminology (2nd ed. ). Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning. Zimbardo, P. (2008). The Lucifer effect: understanding how good people turn evil. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.