What are the darkest sides of psychology

This prison psycho experiment exposed the darkest sides of man

Last week in the USA a film was released that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January: The Stanford Prison Experiment. It is a thriller in which randomly selected people as prison guards are allowed to exercise power over other randomly determined prisoners. The course of the film is not nice, but the most exciting thing is that this is a true story.

In 1971 the psychologist Philip Zimbardo carried out this same psychological experiment at Stanford University with his colleagues Craig Haney and Curtis Banks. The background of the experiment was the research of social rules and their effects on roles, judgments and social expectations in an artificially created prison environment.

It was a simulation study of the psychology of imprisonment that had to be abandoned long before its planned end because the scientists lost their objectivity and the guards began to act out sadistic traits.

Using a newspaper advertisement, the scientists looked for participants for the psychological study on life in captivity. More than 70 applicants registered for the tender.

The Stanford experiment proves that torturers do not have to suffer from mental disorders, but that the social environment incites people to violence and injustice.

Ultimately, the psychologists decided on 24 middle-class American students and put them through a test before they started, which confirmed their mental and physical health. Participants received $ 15 a day for participating in the experiment. Their task was assigned to them by a coin toss decision. A random choice with fatal consequences.

The students were now prisoners or prison guards. For the following days, her existence had nothing to do with her well-ordered everyday life.

The horror began when the "criminals" were taken from their house by a police detachment in proper style on a beautiful Sunday morning and taken prisoners. Neighbors witnessed the nice guy next door suddenly being taken from his house and having to put his hands on the patrol car and got his rights read out loud.

When they arrived at the "prison complex," the "criminals" were subjected to the usual identification procedures, fingerprints were taken, and their eyes were then blindfolded. With no orientation, the guards led them into their cells, which had been installed as realistic replicas in the basement of the Psychological Faculty of Stanford University.

Each three occupants were assigned a tiny, dark room with only a little space for three bunk beds. They had to call a guard to go to the toilet, who then led the inmate to the toilet, again blindfolded.

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As soon as the arrested had arrived in the basement jail of the university, they were deloused and given a heavy anklet. But that was not enough of the humiliation, in addition, the inmates had to pull a nylon stocking over their head and put on a hospital shirt as prison clothing with a number on the front and back. There was no underwear.

The "guards", on the other hand, were equipped with sunglasses, whistles and rubber truncheons, they patrolled the doors and were allowed to treat the "prisoners" as they saw fit. All decision-making power lay with the guards, and their job was to keep the prison in order to keep things calm and orderly. In the event of an outbreak, they were informed, the experiment would be stopped.

The guards changed every eight hours, so that there were three guards and nine prisoners on site. After the guards had familiarized themselves with their new roles (which the prisoners had to learn quickly anyway from the radical entry into the experiment) they quickly began to demonstrate their new power: they stopped the prisoners with push-ups for disobedience and night roll calls Trot.

But already after the second night, the prisoners rehearsed an uprising to get out of their predicament - and from then on things went downhill. The guards took away the beds and the already scanty clothes and used various measures to exercise their power.

From 10 p.m. onwards, the prisoners were only allowed to use their own buckets in the cell to go to the toilet, which meant that the simulated jail soon gave off the unpleasant smell of feces and urine.

The inmates who had not or only little taken part in the uprising were moved to an extra cell with clothes, bunk beds and additional food. After they were brought back to their previous inmates after half a day, they mistook them for informers. The guards had thus destroyed solidarity among the prisoners and nipped in the bud new rebellious actions.

Although the experiment was actually scheduled for two weeks, it was stopped after six days because it was no longer morally acceptable. Some prisoners showed extreme stress reactions at this point and even the experimenter began to lose their objective view of the psychological "adventure". In addition, some guards, especially at night when they suspected that the cameras were switched off, acted out sadistic traits upon graduation, some of the prisoners suffered emotional breakdowns.

In the Stanford Prison Experiment, certain events could be observed that are also known from real prisons. These arise from factors such as anonymity, rules and regulations, responsibility for violations, role assignment or the need for social acceptance. If these factors occur collectively, they can form a "powerful synthesis", according to Zimbardo.

Just as the Abu Ghraib torture scandals were booming in the media, the Stanford Prison Experiment was used as evidence that a person does not have to suffer from a mental disorder or perverted personality for their inhuman behavior. Rather, the conditions of the social environment are responsible for behavior, as was shown in the empirical Stanford experiment.

After already having it in Germany The experiment made a film with a few incorrect twists - Zimbardo successfully sued the subtitle "based on a real occurrence" because of these inaccuracies - Hollywood is now also taking on the extensive experiment. Here is the dramatic trailer for "The Stanford Prison Experiment" :

The simulation of a simulation is somewhat pointed in the current version of the film, physical violence was forbidden in the original experiment, for example - nevertheless: Even the real course was by no means humane and shows in a shocking way how sadistic people can behave in situations characterized by power and powerlessness.

After all, at a meeting of the original participants, one year after the experiment, no remaining psychological damage was found in the former prisoners.

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