Social Psychology and the Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo

Social Psychology and the Stanford Prison Experiment by Philip Zimbardo

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Social psychology is an empirical science that studies how people think about, influence, and relate to one another. This field focuses on how individuals view and affect one another. Social psychology also produces the idea of construals which represent how a person perceives, comprehends or interprets the environment. Construals introduce the idea that people want to make themselves look good to others and they want to be seen as right. It is also said that the social setting in which people interact impacts behavior, which brings up the idea of behaviorism. Behaviorism is the idea that behavior is a function of the person and the environment.

The ideas of social psychology mentioned above can be applied to the Stanford Prison Experiment; in which the environment, the participants, and construals brought about behaviors that may not have been how the participants actually would behave in real life.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. The purpose of the experiment was a landmark study of the human response to captivity, in particular, to the real world circumstances of prison life. In social psychology, this idea is known as “mundane realism”. Mundane realism refers to the ability to mirror the real world as much as possible, which is just what this study did. Twenty-four subjects were randomly assigned to play the role of "prisoner" or "guard" and they were made to conform to these roles.
Subjects became so entranced in these roles that the guards started to behave as if they really were the guards of a true prison. Zimbardo had told them to think of themselves in this way and it led to the guards mentally abusing the prisoners with their cruel and degrading ro...


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...ion people based on the orders of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. In reference to the two situations, one participant of the study said that “anybody can be a guard, but not every one becomes sadistic.” This saying can be applied to real life situations, especially that of the New Jersey incident.

These occurrences can be analyzed using social psychology because the environment, the situation, and those holding the authority influenced the behavior of others. Due to these influences, prisoners and guards acted on the roles they were given, in the way that society sees them. The description, in itself, is the definition of social psychology.



Works Cited

Ratnesar, Romesh. July/August 2011. The Menace Within. Stanford Magazine, pp. 1-9.

Smothers, Ronald. (1998, February 6). Asylum Seekers Testify on Abuse by Jail Guards. The New York Times, pp. 1A, 9A.

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