Unchecked Authority and the Stanford Prison Experiment

Unchecked Authority and the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’


In this episode, Michael and Ryan talk about the infamous prison experiment conducted in the 1970’s by Philip Zimbardo, who initially intended to study the effects of prison environments on everyone, but ended up uncovering some horrifically evil examples of human nature.

A group of people is broken down into a group of prisoners and a group of guards. They are housed in a Stanford basement, make-shift prison. Prisoners were given informed consent that their civil rights might be violated. And they were.

The prisoners were stripped of their clothes and belongings, their heads were shaved, and they were given a number, as their name was taken away.

Over the course of a few days, everything went bad. For a multitude of reasons: prisoners broke down, suffering extreme psychological trauma, and even more, the guards we re found to embrace their roles of authority super readily. Shocker, right?

“How we went about testing these questions and what we found may astound you. Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress. Please read the story of what happened and what it tells us about the nature of human nature.”
–Professor Philip G. Zimbardo

The point is this: When put in a position of power, we all turn evil. Unchecked authority creates monsters out of us. Even the conductor of the experiment, the accredited scientist of all of this, Philip Zimbardo, got so caught up in this whole thing, started referring to them as “my prisoners” and the Stanford basement, “my prison!” and even convinced himself at one point that a break-in would happen, ‘taking away his control….’

The photo above is of Dr. Zimbardo waiting for the released prisoner to come back and break-in, essentially disrupting the entire experiment for nothing. This was referenced by Michael during the podcast episode. This was the point where Zimbardo realized he was a part of the experiment, too. Unchecked authority affected him in a criminalizing way.

There have been a couple of movies since then, including The Experiment and because of the widespread recognition that this experiment got.

— Corey Stewart, @corstew91 on twitter

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