The Stanford Prison Study

In this experiment, those who were assigned to play the role of a guard had an undeniable advantage over those who had to be prisoners. The psychological impact, however, seemed to be consistent regardless of what role they had to play. In regards to the three types of guards that were formed amongst the group, I would hope to be one of the guards who conducted themselves by the book-- not offering any special treatment or favors to the prisoners, yet not arbitrarily mistreating them.

This would allow me to focus on the fact that this is merely a study and that I was simply to follow a set of rules. I cannot be certain, however that this would be the case if I were to participate in the study. The men who played the guards were screened and determined to be mentally and physically healthy individuals when they were chosen for the experiment; but then some of them transformed into cruel dictators, dehumanizing and humiliating the prisoners.

This shows that being thrown into a new environment and given a new identity can result in shocking behavior of which that individual never knew they were capable. It is difficult to determine whether one can or cannot endure this type of experiment. I would assume that I would be able to handle the role of a prisoner as long as I know in my mind that it was only an experiment. Knowing the effects this study had on several of the prisoners, I would not allow myself to become completely engulfed in my identity as a prisoner, but try to remind myself constantly that it is only a simulation.

In contrast, I do not believe I would be able to endure being in a real prison for five years or more, because it is not the basement of a college. It would be real, the people would be real, and there would be absolutely no way out of it. Students were able to quit the prison experiment-- prisoners cannot quit real-life jail. In regards to psychological prisons that people often create for themselves, shyness can be considered a very powerful mental restraint.

Acute shyness can hinder an individual from speaking his or her mind, integrating into social groups, or simply interacting with another person. Unlike a physical prison, that person is both the prisoner and the guard; but this can create a standstill as the two roles may cancel each other out. The other difference between a psychological and physical prison is actual restraint-- it is much more possible to overcome the mentality of being shy, as opposed to escaping guards and iron bars.

People have the potential of controlling and breaking free of their own psychological prisons. In physical prisons, however, most of one’s control is stripped, subjecting them to the control of others. The Stanford prison study is comparable to Milgram’s obedience experiments, as they raise similar ethical issues. Both experiments inflicted heavy mental stress on its subjects, and many questioned the validity of compromising an individual’s mental health in the name of scientific research.

Milgram’s teachers and Stanford’s guards played similar roles, as they held the most power in the experiments; but Milgram’s subjects were following orders to administer shocks to the other participants, while the prison study’s guards were free to play their role as they desired. Whether or not these studies should have taken place is highly debatable. While Milgram’s experiment caused some stress amongst the subjects, nobody was harmed. In contrast, while the prison study resulted in disturbing and harmful behavior between the guards and prisoners, there was no way of predicting that the experiment would escalate to such dangerous levels.