Stanford experiment. Why good people do bad things

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Stanford experiment. Why good people do bad things
Stanford experiment. Why good people do bad things

Stanford experiment. As an American psychologist, Philip Zimbardo proved that any good person, under certain circumstances, turns into a beast.

Stanford experiment

“Create in the prisoners a sense of longing, fear, a sense of arbitrariness, that their lives are completely controlled by us … We will take away their individuality in various ways. All this together will create a feeling of powerlessness in them. This means that in the aufblasbare wasserrutschen of this situation we will have all the power, and they will have none,”the author, American psychologist Philip Zimbardo, instructed the participants of the famous Stanford experiment.

What is good

… what is bad? So, “bad” is “a deliberate, deliberate act committed with the aim of harming, insulting, humiliating, dehumanizing or destroying other people who are not guilty of anything; or using the personal power and authority of the System to encourage people or vendita piscina gonfiabile con scivolo to allow them to do such things on its behalf. In short, "knowing what is good, doing bad" - this is the definition of evil given by Philip Zimbardo in his book devoted to the Stanford experiment "The Lucifer Effect. Why do good people turn into villains. " But what kind of experiment is this?

The most psychologically stable

“These young people hardly realize that Palo Alto church bells are ringing on them today. Soon their lives will change in completely unexpected ways. Sunday, August 14, 1971, five to ten in the morning,”- this is how Philip Zimbardo begins his story.

Palo Alto is a small Californian town adjacent to the Stanford University campus. Here, in the basement of the Faculty of Psychology, a prison was set up. For fun. 70 people responded to the ad to participate in the experiment for $ 15 a day (or $ 76, taking into account inflation as of 2006). Zimbardo and his colleagues chose 24. The most healthy and psychologically stable.

All participants were male college students, mostly from the middle class. The group was divided into two parts. The first was supposed to play the role of guards, the second - prisoners. Nobody wanted to be a jailer, so Zimbrado selected them by drawing lots. Then they will think that they were taken as guards for their high growth (although there was no average statistical difference in height between the two groups). Until then … They were choosing uniforms for their role in local stores. They were also given mirrored sunglasses. To avoid seeing the eyes … The guards had to wear them all the time they were on duty. Zimbardo himself became the "manager" of the prison.

The prisoners were dressed in rough plain robes and given rubber slippers. They were not wearing underwear - this was supposed to change their usual posture and make them feel uncomfortable. Each had a small chain on one leg, symbolizing lack of freedom. On the head - stockings to imitate shaved heads. Instead of names - numbers that they should remember. Two weeks (this is how long the experiment was supposed to last) they will be addressed exclusively by numbers.

All this was supposed to disorient the prisoners and immerse them in a prison atmosphere. As real as possible. Except for physical and sexual abuse, which was strictly prohibited from the very beginning. Zimbardo was interested in a person's reaction to the restriction of freedom, living conditions behind bars and the influence of an imposed social role on behavior. First of all, his attention was focused on the prisoners.But very quickly it switched to the guards, and the experiment itself soon got out of control.

Zimbardo effect

“There is a big difference between your Stanford make-believe jail and real prisons - there are completely different prisoners and guards than yours. In a real prison, we are dealing with sociopaths, violent guys who cost nothing to break the law or attack the guards. You need really cool guards to control them, ready, if necessary, to break their necks. Your lovely Stanford boys are not at all as rude and cruel as real guards and prisoners,”said one of the experiment's consultants, a policeman named Bill, to Zimbardo.


In 2015, a film by director Kyle Patrick Alvarez dedicated to the Stanford experiment of the same name was released.

And hit the sky with my finger. But before the start of the experiment, no one could even think about it. And humiliation of prisoners begins almost immediately. Despite the embarrassment and awkwardness, most of the guards quickly learn their role. You can understand them: what will happen if they are not tough? Are the prisoners likely to stop listening to them?

Are they likely to derail the experiment? Probably. But harshness doesn't mean harshness. How far can she go in a typical psychological experiment?

On the second day, the guards decide that their charges are not serious about their authority. Deciding to teach the disobedient a lesson, they tear the blankets from their beds, and then drag them through the thorny bushes. It will take the prisoners at least an hour to get the thorns out of the blankets. Unless, of course, they want to sleep under the blankets. Without realizing it, the jailers try to get the prisoners to do meaningless and useless work. As in any prison. As in the army. As in any administrative system. Even at school. It is for power and control. To suppress will, freedom and individuality.

The guards play prisoners against each other, choosing between "good" and "bad" prison buildings. The "bad" people are forced to clean toilets with their bare hands, do push-ups for a long time, take their mattresses so that they could sleep right on the concrete floor.

On the fourth day, the jailers, in order to thwart attempts to escape (which indeed were made), persuade the local police to move the makeshift prison to a real one - in one of the unused prison buildings. Fortunately, in vain. Because of what Zimbardo himself, in his words, "was angry and annoyed." He himself entered the role of a sadistic guard.

Already on the fifth day, homosexual bullying begins. The jailers do not even suspect that everything that happens is recorded on hidden video cameras. From one such entry: “You will be Frankenstein's bride,” says one of the guards named Barden to prisoner # 2093. “7258, you will be Frankenstein. I want you to walk like Frankenstein and say that you love No. 2093. " He makes the prisoners move closer to each other, imitating sexual intercourse. “Like dogs, right? That's what dogs do! He's already ready, isn't he? Look, he's standing in the back, it's doggy style! Why don't you do it like dogs? " Chuckles another jailer, Hellman.

Everyone involved in the experiment, including the team of observer psychologists and Zimbardo himself, got so used to the role that they did not pay attention to the suffering of the prisoners and did not take their complaints seriously. Until a graduate student at Stanford University and Zimbardo's bride Christina Maslak, who had not previously participated in the experiment, intervened in the matter. She raised the question of the ethics of its continuation, and the experiment was stopped on the sixth day.

Abu Ghraib is a prison 32 km from Baghdad. In 2004, an international scandal erupted here. The American CBS channel spoke about the torture of American soldiers over prisoners. And he did not just tell, but showed the photos taken by the guards themselves, the soldiers. Here they pose against the background of a living pyramid of naked prisoners, there they beat them to death.

The prisoners were raped, forced to walk on all fours and bark, to catch food from toilets, stripped naked and put plastic bags on their heads, and led them on a leash. And they constantly photographed. “One American said he would rape me. He drew a woman on my back and made me stand in a shameful position, hold my own scrotum in my hands,”said one of the prisoners.

Among the organizers of all these lewd practices were women - US military personnel Lindy Rana England and Sabrina Harman. Some of the most brutal guards, paradoxically. Smiling broadly, Sabrina Harman posed in front of a tortured to death Iraqi named Manadela al-Jamadi, and forced one prisoner to stand with a bag on his head and with wires tied to his arms, legs and genitals, announcing that if he moved, he would kill him electric shock (in fact, the wires were not connected to electricity, but you can imagine what the prisoner experienced).


The events at Abu Ghraib made people remember the Stanford experiment again. Including Philip Zimbardo, who became interested in this story. And it was not easy to become interested, but concluded that the military command and the government were wrong to approach the matter. The charges concerned only the abuse of a few black sheep by the US Army. Zimbardo believes that the reason is in the System.

“The main lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment is very simple: the situation matters,” Zimbardo writes. - Social situations often have a more powerful influence on the behavior and thinking of individuals, groups and even leaders of a nation than we used to think. Some situations have such a strong influence on us that we begin to behave in a way that we could not have imagined before … The most important lesson of STE (Stanford Prison Experiment. - NS) is that the System creates a Situation. It provides legalized support, power and resources through which situations arise."

Thanks to the System, ordinary people allow themselves to behave like tyrants ("after all, this is the norm"). Most people do not think about the correctness or incorrectness of this norm. It is correct, and that's it. Because everyone does this, because it is necessary. Most don't think. And if they think, then in the end they succumb to the temptation to be like everyone else. It's easier and safer.

The Milgram and Hofling experiment

In 1963, Stanley Milgram, another American psychologist at Yale University, sat three people down behind push-button devices. The first of them was an experimenter, the second was a "teacher", the third was a "student" (in fact, it was an actor). The experimenter demanded that the “teacher” ask the “student” simple memorization problems. At every mistake the "student" was shocked (this is what the "teacher" thought, the "student", of course, was only pretending). With each new mistake the experimenter demanded from the "teacher" to increase the current strength, arguing this with various arguments. Starting with only 15 V, 26 out of 40 subjects who participated in the experiment reached the "cherished" 450 V. Only five stopped at 300 V, when the "student" began to show the first signs of dissatisfaction, four stopped at 315 V, two - at 330 V, one person each stopped at 345, 360 and 375 V.

A similar experiment was carried out in 1966 by psychiatrist Charles Hofling, who called nursing points in various types of hospitals and, posing as one of the doctors, ordered the nurses to inject 20 mg of the dangerous Astroten substance into one or another patient. This is twice the 10 mg allowable dose, which the nurses were well aware of. But that didn't stop them. 21 out of 22 sisters unquestioningly fulfilled the doctor's prescription, whom I had never seen before. Of course, all of them were stopped in time, none of the patients were injured. After all, it was just an experiment.

Thoughtless obedience to authorities, inherent in the absolute majority of people, and a suitable ideology, which lies at the root of any system, are capable of much. Including the most bloody crimes such as Nazism and torture of the Inquisition. All this is still around us. Somewhere on a smaller scale, somewhere on a larger scale. Hazing in the army, oppression of women, bullying at school, beating of children by parents, wives by husbands. The majority turn a blind eye to all this. Including the police. It is as if it is, but at the same time it is as if it is not. It seems to be bad, and it seems to be "with whom it does not happen." It seems to be necessary to be indignant, but “why conflict”, “wash dirty linen in public”. And in general, "they will figure it out themselves." Because this is a kind of norm.


“When they talk about the Stanford experiment, they often use the word“accidentally”,” says Lyubov Zayeva, a psychoanalyst and specialist at the European Confederation for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. - Random selection of participants, randomly dividing them into two groups. However, from the standpoint of psychoanalysis, one should speak precisely about the nonrandomness of many details.

Every person has sadistic and masochistic tendencies. It is they, as different forms of hatred, that help us from infancy to demand what is necessary for survival, and to express dissatisfaction if our needs are not met on time or in the desired volume. Normally, these drives (drives. - NS) are constantly looking for a way out of the natural "stores" and "factories" of the unconscious, but at the same time they are controlled by external and internal moral rules, life princes. And the more mature a person's Ego and Superego, the higher the likelihood that he does not cross some line, not because he will be punished, but because he does not see pleasure and expediency in this. That is, it’s one thing when I’m afraid to do something and therefore don’t do it. Another - if there is no need for it, I do not want to do it.

Let's go back to the experiment. When the call for recruitment was announced, it was precisely those people who responded to it for whom the announced topic - prison - had already aroused curiosity rather than disgust. That is, they initially wanted to play it, which means, to realize some of their fantasies and desires. Otherwise, they simply would not have responded. Further, it was no longer so important which side of the line they were on, because sadism and masochism are one "hourglass" that can turn this way or that, depending on the degree of repression of some desires, fear of manifestation of their true desires, the degree of internal permissiveness.

The "jailers" received from an authoritative figure - the author of the Zimbardo experiment - permission for the free realization of sadistic drives. That is, initially, the participants were like adolescents, in whom their identity is formed largely due to aggressive self-identification and competition, the form of manifestation of which and the ability to sublimate depend on the degree of infantilism. The role of the Adult, the bearer of the Superego, law and rules, was projected onto Zimbardo. And if the superego brought outside allowed the freedom of drives, then then everyone was guided by the degree of their desires. That is, all the participants in the experiment, even before the start of the active phase of actions, already wished to respond to some previously suppressed desires. It is also no coincidence that the participants were students, that is, yesterday's adolescents, whose desire for a free release of forbidden drives is very great and can easily become stronger than the reality principle.

Let's not forget that any idea is based on the unconscious desire of the author-creator to react. That is, the very idea of ​​the experiment was due to some sadistic desires of Zimbardo. Some of them were actively implemented - in the form of organizing shocking conditions, rules, and some - in the form of passive observation of the participants' suffering.

Thus, this experiment is not so much about the conditions for the loss of social roles and self-identification, but about the strength of sadomasochistic drives of persons with, probably, borderline personality organization. Because the reality principle would stop an ordinary neurotic at the stage of curiosity, but would not allow him to violate the boundaries of internal permissiveness by freely participating in a fantasy from an internal reality called "Prison". We go only into those scenarios and spaces that are close to us, familiar at least remotely. We can only try on those roles, information about which is already in our inner experience …

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