Exploring the Dark Side of Humanity: the Stanford Prison Experiment

in stemng •  7 months ago

I would like to begin with the song Jailer by the delectable Asa. I have not been to prison before but I have been to a police station and

even though I have not seen the insides of a cell, I have heard the inmates in there, and it is challenging to differentiate the criminals and the innocents judging from the sounds you hear coming out of there.
This post is not about the deplorable state of Nigerian prisons even though that is a worthy theme. Instead, it is about how correctional officers and jail inmates alike, are influenced and changed by the prison system. Or how any individual can be induced to commit crimes against another individual once the right conditions are set.

Boys of Abu Ghraib



If you have not read or heard about the real-life story of the prison in Abu Ghraib, then I might as well tell you about the Boys of Abu Ghraib, the movie. It was about Jack Farmer, a 22-year-old American man who ships out to Iraq to serve his country as a member of the Army Reserves. The movie is based on true events. The young men arrived, and their captain told them about how they were on the front lines of the fight against terrorism. With time, Jack realised this was not true. To make matters worse, the condition of life at the camp was such that there was no electricity, no interaction with civilisation, no phones: nothing but the dry air and each other's company. The camp itself was nothing but cell blocks, complete with blood stains of inmates waiting to die or drift into oblivion. The story summarises that Jack decided to help himself by volunteering for MP which he hoped would provide a change of scenery and reduce boredom.

He was transferred to what was called a Hard Site which was supposedly the prison for the hardest of terrorists. According to his new boss, the first rule of the place was no compassion. Their job, according to the new boss was essentially softening up the prisoners in a way that left no evidence of maltreatment. Therefore their weapon was humiliation, isolation and deprivation.


Maxpixel CC0

The film was based on a true story involving U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick who was accused of heinous crimes of notorious torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. The evidence against the staff sergeant in his court marshall was enormous, and he would have served a very long time in prison if not for the witness provided by Stanford psychologist, Dr Philip Zimbardo. The good doctor argued that the actions of Frederick should not be viewed as a reflection of his character. Instead, his actions should be seen as a necessary result of the conditions and environment created by higher authorities in the institution he served.Zimbardo's testimony was arguably the reason that Frederick got only eight years. In other words, any person could commit criminal acts under certain environments.

If this is true, then how do we differentiate a criminal from the rest of the crowd? And what exactly makes one person a criminal and the other person law-abiding?



This reminds me of a boy from my hometown. He was not much older than me, but he was bigger than most of his mates. His name was Richie. My mom would often admonish me to avoid bad gangs because they would influence me and turn me bad. I did my best, now look how well I turned out :). Anyway this is about Richie. Apparently he joined a bad crowd, and this culminated in a TV robbery which he participated in at the age of 24 and, he had to go to prison, leaving behind his young wife and baby boy destitute. Apart from his friends, Richie was a very cool boy. He was never in fights. In fact, the only fight he was in, his opponent who was notably smaller than him beat him to a pulp, so he was not a particularly violent person. Then he went to prison.

Have you seen the insides of a Nigerian prison?



I hear the mosquitoes down there were well fed. The cells are overcrowded, and water is not always available in their toilets. Richie came back with a changed complexion. He had a very light complexion, but he returned with a somewhat reddish complexion with scars all over his skin. The last time I saw him, he was withdrawn and very quiet with a mysterious light in his eyes. He soon made a local bar his preferred spot. Barely six months after his return, he was identified as one of three people who robbed the woman that owned the local bar, killed the owner and burned the place down, making it look like a fire accident. Unfortunately, a villager identified him and jungle justice ensued as the crowd gathered to make him talk and identify the other two suspects. Jungle justice is condemnable, but social psychology explains how individuals lose their individuality when they are in a group. Anyway, Richie died with the knowledge of his co-conspirators because he would not give them up even at the point of his death.

So how does prison conditions expose the dark aspects of human psychology?

The Stanford Prison Experiment



In Frederick's court marshal, Zimbardo explained that independent of character, any individual can be induced to commit notorious crimes against another individual or group on individuals such as beating naked prisoners, sleep deprivation, humiliation and others given the right set of circumstances.


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It was Zimbardo's opinion that Frederick’s actions, were a predictable outcome of the assignment he had been given. Therefore, it was not sensible to punish the man because his actions were as a result of the external conditions provided by the higher-up and not based on his character. Zimbardo's testimony was based on the results of the Stanford Prison Experiment he conducted and was a part of during the six days that spanned from 14th August to 20th August 1971. The experiment involved setting up a mock prison in the basement of Stanford University's Jordan Hall.

The experiment was intended to push further the research into Situational Behaviour and it was intended to see how much our behaviour is dependent on our external environment. With a grant from the U.S. Office of Naval Research to study the psychology of confinement and the relationship between guards and inmates in a prison setting, Zimbardo went to work. He set up the prison cells by partitioning the basement of the Jordan Hall with several other provisions that made the space suitable for a prison. An advert in a paper helped him recruit male students who he promised to pay $15 daily for participating in a psychological study of life in prison.

He had was able to sift through the applications he had received and carefully selected 24 healthy participants in their twenties with no record of violence, behaviour problems and criminal records. Then he separated them into two groups: correctional officers and inmates. This sounds like a joke, right? Wrong.

Do you remember that guyBradley Bellick from the first four seasons of Prison Break? When I first saw the series, I was amazed at just how thoroughly devious and cunning the guy was. Apart from his uniform, I considered him the person with the


worst criminal tendencies in Fox River Penitentiary.

Anyway as the series progressed, he went from a warder to a prisoner in Panama, then a member of the breakout team which led to his ultimately sacrificing his life to save the rest of the team. So whose side was he really on? Your answer has to be: "It depends.".

So Zimbardo had a meeting with his chosen guards the night before the experiment began and gave them the appropriate orientation. They learned how to conduct themselves in their roles as guards. They were dressed in khaki, wooden batons and sunglasses then organised to work three eight-hour shifts. They had instructions not to abuse the inmates physically. Therefore their sticks and uniforms were to give them an edge and to help them exert authority over the inmates. The inmates, on the other hand, were issued ill-fitting uniformed smocks on which their numbers (not names) were sewn in. They were fingerprinted, and their mug shots were taken by the police. They were shown to their cells with a short chain on their ankles further impressing it upon their minds that they were prisoners. It is important to note that their participation was voluntary and each participant (inmate or guard) was free to walk away from the experiment anytime they wished.

By the time the inmates were transported to their cells and placed three per cell, it had been ensured that the inmates were made subordinate to the guards and it was not hard for the participants to internalize the rules and start acting towards each other accordingly by the end of the first day as if they had been inmates and guards for a long time.


Wikipedia CC0The Stanford Prison Inmates

The first day ended without any event even though some of the inmates were bored and annoyed at the arbitrary treatment they received from the guards. The guards called the inmates by their numbers and made them repeat the numbers to show subordination. They were rude to the inmates and would often bring them out of their cells to search them even though they could not have snuck in any contraband within the time frame they had been there. Penalties included menial tasks like washing the toilets. Soon, more punishments like taking away the mattresses of disobedient inmates, making them sleep on the hard, cold floor. Oh, you thought the guard's power was fake? Nah. But these were ordinary folks who are no different from the inmates. Plus the guards have no incentive for being mean to the inmates. All they needed, apparently was for some form of authority to be bestowed on them then they can unleash the darkness in their hearts.

It took just the noon of the second day for a prisoner (number 8612) to start showing signs of breakdown from the condition he found himself. After refusing to calm down, Zimbardo decided to process him out on "parole". The processing itself was done in a time-consuming fashion to further impress upon the inmates the idea of an all-powerful authority. After being processed out, he was released from the study for his own sake. During this time, the inmates were disobedient due to maltreatment by the guards such that by the end of that day, the guards volunteered to work overtime to subdue the inmates. And they did this without further incentives.

At the end of that day, the clinical staff left and the guards on duty cleared one cell and moved all the inmates into three cells, freeing one cell for "well-behaved" inmates, thereby increasing crowding in the other cells. With time, the broom room was used as solitary confinement for punishing disobedient inmates

By the third day, the inmates began to identify with members of their own group while the guards identified with their fellow guards. It became and US against THEM situation. This is significant when you consider that there were no sides just three days before. About one in three guards developed genuine hatred and sadism against the inmates and continuously invented new and ingenious ways to suppress, punish and make the inmates helpless.

Zimbardo realised that things were getting out of hand when rumour filtered in that the released inmate was planning to return with a small army to execute a jailbreak and free the other inmates. He had to move the inmates upstairs with the plan to tell the man if he did show up, that the experiment had been terminated. The psychologist began to realise how things were getting too dangerous and just how involved he was in it all but he did not stop the experiment. It was not until his girlfriend, a psychologist saw what was going on and was appalled by it that she urged him to end the situation that was building up. It was day four, and some inmates were becoming suicidal, having lost grip with the reality of the situation.

When Zimbardo finally announced the termination of the experiment on the sixth day, the guards were disappointed at having to relinquish their authority and power over the inmates. This kind of makes you think: what is it about human beings that makes them so sadistic and brutal against their fellow human beings when they have the power and authority. Note that before this division into two groups, both groups were the same.

Conclusion


The outcome of this experiment makes you wonder if the distinctions of law-abiding citizens and criminals as established by the society are accurate because it suggests that healthy non-violent individuals can become violent and commit heinous crimes against other individuals without coercion and only little encouragement if the conditions are right. This calls into question the actions of many war criminals in the history of the world. Were Nazi death squad members criminals or were the conditions just right for the crimes they committed?

It is easy to stand in judgement against criminals for their crimes, but it is easier to perform those same crimes if certain conditions are provided. This was the case with the Stanford correctional officers and inmates. There was no difference between a guard and inmates. A distinction was established when guards are elevated to positions of authority and inmates are suppressed to subordination, humiliation and defeat. Under these conditions, both guards and inmates easily forgot their right just to quit and leave the experiment because each party was engrossed in identifying with members of their group and standing together against the forces of the other group. The guards acted with exceptional brutality, in a manner that suggested that they would never be called have to answer for their actions. The prisoners, on the other hand, were willing to put up with appalling abuses of their human rights without demanding to be let go. Instead, they focused on group cohesion against the forces of the opposition.

In spite of all these, one of the most disturbing observations of the experiment was the fact that of the students and other people who witnessed the incarceration of the inmates and the way in which they lived, not one protested these things. Each person saw the inmates and walked away. What does that say about us as human beings? Zimbardo's experiment finds applications in rehabilitation and prison management especially towards preventing or controlling violent revolts in prisons. The research concluded that external conditions, rather than an individual's personality or character, determine how people react under stress and ultimately, how they treat each other. Therefore, the Stanford Prison Experiment has implications that go far beyond prison applications.

References

  1. Prison Exp | The Stanford Prison Experiment
  2. Wikipedia | Stanford Prison Experiment
  3. Simply Psychology
  4. The New Yorker | The Real Lesson from the Stanford Prison Experiment

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In this prison... Booty.
Boty was... more important than food.
Booty... A man's butt.
Booty... Havin' sum booty...
Was more important... than drinking water, man...
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I like booty!!
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source:
"Lockup Raw", unaired, "Fleece" "The Booty Warrior" Johnson

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This comment has received a 28.82 % upvote from @steemdiffuser thanks to: @stimialiti.

Bids above 0.1 SBD may get additional upvotes from our trail members.

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@youtake pulls you up ! This vote was sent to you by @stimialiti!

Hi @churchboy
We have selected your post as post of the day for our DaVinci Times. Our goal is to help the scientific community of Steemit, and even if our vote is still small we hope to grow in quickly! You will soon receive our sincere upvote! If you are interested in science follow us sto learn more about our project.

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Keep in mind that for organizational reasons it’s necessary to use the “steemstem” and “davinci-times” tags to be voted again.
Greetings from @davinci.witness and the itaSTEM team.

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Thank you for the selection. Much appreciated.

Check out this video, Its true horror. Hell on earth

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It is a real hell.

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I swear! they used to torture people like its some daily activity :/ so freaking barbaric

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It is a bloody shame. I wish there was anything that can be done but to manage the situation. If you keep prisoners without correctional officers, they would escape. If you keep them without giving the correctional officers some kind of authority and advantage, the prisoners would suppress them. So the only solution is to manage the situation. I appreciate the comment. Thanks. All the best.

Hello my dearest @churchboy :)

What an incredibly well-written and interesting post you have gifted us with today!

In many ways, I believe Zimbardo followed Milgram's footsteps. I think that when he set out to conduct this experiment he almost replicated The obedience to authority study. I also think that what this research unveiled about human nature - as well as confirming Milgram's findings - exposed even further how much of a role the context people find themselves in play in their decision making. Sometimes even causing them to leave their morals and personal beliefs aside.

All the best & much love to you my dear :*

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Thank you so much my dear @abigail-dantes.

Yes, I noticed that this experiment was meant to add to the knowledge gained from Milgram's research. I think that underlying what was observed in the experiment was not only the conditions put in place at the prison but also the separation of the participants into groups. Group identity is a powerful thing. Most conflicts around the world can be traced to the idea that one group of people is different from another group. But there is no real difference in the guards and the inmates. They post spent times in the prison! And as Asa put it:

You wear uniforms. I wear uniforms too. I'd die; yourself you'd die too. I'm a prisoner; you're a prisoner too. Life is beautiful; don't you think so too, Mr Jailer?

Because we often identify with our own group and ascribe certain qualities to other groups, whether true or false, we feel justified to judge them by those qualities and to punish them for their shortcomings and it matters not that we may be wrong. I think this is true for both the side that has authority and the side that is being subdued. The only thing that can solve this problem is an environment that promotes a shared value, like steemit, for instance. There are minnows and there are whales and dolphins. Our shared value is STEEM. It is in the best interest of all for the currency to appreciate in value and one way to achieve that is if more and more people use it. For that reason, it is in the interest of the whale to encourage minnows, curation benefits aside. So we are all in this together no matter how different we are.

However, a system that encourages people to dwell on their differences rather than what binds them together would result in the kind of situation Zimbardo created.

I appreciate you insights into this field of yours. All my love to you. Thank you.

I found this experiment to be fascinating (but also controversial) and I have actually watched and enjoyed 2 movies about this. It clearly shows how can our own perception of things change the way we behave and act.

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Hello @dedicatedguy :)

I am interested in finding out the movies you saw about this experiment. I have seen only one Stanford Prison Experiment (2015) by Ezra Miller. Could you please let me know which ones you've watched?

Thank you :)

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This is the other one, and it is better, well at least I enjoyed it more, it had better actors :)

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0997152/

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It looks interesting. I will try to see it.

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May I interfere and suggest Die Welle? another german movie only it is based on studying how a dictatorship is built (from the aspect of follower raising). The fascinating thing about such experiments is how things get out of control sooner or later. Subjects just "flip out" and get out of control somehow suddenly, even though you can see the escalation in their behavior but you can't really tell when the "fireworks" will start.

Now that I think about it, it's been a long time since I watched a movie of that type...

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I think, to some extent Boys of Abu Ghraib showed something about this.

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Yes, I completely agree with you. Our behaviours are not set in stone.

I am reading about this experiment for the very first time. I have always wondered why police for instance, are usually so sadistic and how that sadism cuts across all types of people as soon as they join the force. This experiment explains that but I wonder, is it possible to turn all types of people to do heroic and exhibit positive behaviour towards other people by providing a certain set of conditions?

Awesome and educative post.

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is it possible to turn all types of people to do heroic and exhibit positive behaviour towards other people by providing a certain set of conditions?

This is such a good question Green, and I am looking forward to seeing what @churchboy will have to say about this. As for me, I believe this it is possible indeed, and for the simple reason that it feels good to be good. It is as if our physiology 'rewards' us for being nice. Positive emotions trigger a whole bunch of brain reactions that makes us feel relaxed and purposeful. This comes from trusting people, from being altruistic, from having positive interactions with humans and pets.

I know you are the one who asked this question first; but I would love to hear your opinion about this. Are you more of a Freudian and believe that humans are inherently cruel, or of a humanistic (they oppose to Freud's views on most things)?

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The helpers high? I think it's something that can be done too. At least giving always feels so good. Just like the ad below shows, no one is born bad.

Just that we tend to learn the bad things pretty quickly and slow to unlearn it. So I guess I lean towards the humanistic part of the equation :)

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😍 ❤ Ooowww

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I wrote a short post sometime months ago on helper's high.

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Green, it looks like reading your entire blog should be yet another thing to add to my 'to do' summer list!

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That will be awesome :D

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How would you manage to do that? Green writes a lot!

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Dr Phil Zimbardo talked about another experiment that would do just that about five years ago. I will have to find out the result of that experiment if it did take off. But as our wonderful Abigail and Nelson Mandela both said, we are inherently good and our psyche, from birth, seems to reward us with good feelings when we do good things and treat others well.

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Thanks so much for being here. You're appreciated.

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Oh, beautiful!
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to discuss such an interesting topic 😘

For many people, this fight against the dark side is one of the most exciting in most human life's struggles. Reality shows a constant change between the dark side and the other side in us to imagine one of the winners.

To contrast, a writer who is also a clinical hypnotherapist Kyle Varner from Maryland, gives a tip how to respond normally to our dark side.

First, according to him is the observation of our dark side. Nothing escapes this dark side. Precisely saying that those who are touting that he will not be on this dark side, are the most vulnerable in this dark side hole. Therefore, first is the pattern (trend) of this dark side tendency of ourselves. The same step does not struggle, but reflects on what the dark side does.

Behind the dark side there is a need and desire that may not be fulfilled, or the understanding of unfinished business in our lives. Indeed, the dark side should not be followed, but positively responded that the dark side shows that we are real. Reality shows more of the greater things in us, the more we feel panicked and stalled.

According to Kyle Verner, by realizing and realizing this dark side first, then we can learn to control it. Halela is a rolling energy to achieve the quality of our life. On the one hand we will have the possible negative traits, but the things that can make life stronger. Especially if we are able to control even conquer the dark side. Many people struggle against their dark side, eventually achieving a far more extraordinary quality of self.

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Of course we are all culpable. Denial of culpability ensures that we cannot help ourselves when we go astray. Thank you for your well detailed comment.

Hey @churchboy many thanks for this well written post. This is the first time am hearing about the Standford Prison Experiment.

And it makes me realise that nobody is born bad or good, and we are only victims of our environment and circumstances. Using Bradley Bellick from prison break as an example. When he was a warder at Fox River, he thrived and abused the inmates, not because he was a bad person, but because it was his job to enforce law and order.

And when he became a prisoner at Panama, he became what he once ridiculed and preyed on - an inmate. Simply because of that was his circumstance at the time.

This has to be the post of the week. You deserve some accolades!

PS: R.I.P Richie

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Some accolades would be nice Bro. I paid my dues, I paid in full :)

Yes, I find it very interesting how people usually operate in extremes. Bellick was no model inmate when he went to prison just as he was not a model warden.

Thanks for the compliment.

Really well written and summarised post. Keep it up man !

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Thank you.

I just love psychological experiments and I must say your post kept me going through one part after the other with real pleasure!
Well done! :)

And just like @dedicatedguy suggested, Das Experiment was an excellent movie.

PS. I was a fan of Prison Break

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Thank you so much @ruth-girl for taking the time to leave a comment. I like psychological experiments because of how unpredictable their results usually are.

I need to see that Das Experiment :)

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I like them for the same reason.

I would also suggest Die Welle, like I wrote to Abigail ;)

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I will definitely look at it. Thanks for always replying :)

There are many interesting experiments about this behavior - just following orders or how the design shapes what people do (ever wondered why the "I agree to your snooping" or "I buy this useless shit too" buttons are red background and the "no, just what I selected" nearly invisible?)

I especially like the "electric shock" experiment by Milgram

btw. you will get a share of @steembasicincome sponsored by me.

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Yes, I have thought about those too. But I don't know why. Perhaps you can point me to a study that explores that area of psychology.

Thanks a lot for giving me a share of @steembasicincome. I have never heard of it before :)

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Sorry, I don't have a list of studies on hand, I always have to google too :D

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Google is my friend :)

Thanks.

When I saw the title, I thought to myself, "this again". But you provided a very fresh take, with engaging and (unfortunately) sad personal anecdotes. Good job! 👍

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Thank you. It is an honour to have you here. Yes, the story about Richie is sad. He could gave had a very different end. I appreciate the support.

This was a very interesting read, @churchboy. I have read about the Stanford Prison Experiment a few times in the past already, but it's such an interesting study that I don't mind another read ;)

Anyway, it's pretty scary how fast all of this unfolded. It's just hard to believe that all this happened in only three days!

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Yes, you are right. Even the researchers were shocked at how fast the participants unravelled. Thanks for your support: I truly appreciate it.

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You're welcome! Of course you will get my support when you write such good posts :)

This is yet another amazing post @churchboy. The results from the Stanford Prison experiment can be seen in our daily lives. You can see how people act authoritatively when asked to share food at ceremonies and I’ve always known the sadistic behaviors of police men towards inmates had to be hugely psychological.

Thanks for enlightening me on this and well, @annieben you mentioned the Stanford Prison experiment in your recent post so check this out :)

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It was actually the Skinner experiment sir. Thanks for leading me to this incredible read, all the best

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Oh my bad. You’re welcome 😀

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You are amazing. I sincerely love how you connect up the dots, linking several incidents. It speaks of an amazing mind. Thanks a lot for the support.

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You’re welcome man :)

Wonderful post well articulated. If the situation were different guards could be inmates. Human behaviour sometimes is dependent on the external conditions

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Thank you for your comment. Situations determine choices and eventually people forget that we are not that different, we are only playing different roles.

Wow. I only watched the movie version and it really is something to see good people turn bad. We all have our bad sides, it just depends on us if we do more of the bad instead of the good.

Listened to that song too and it's cool. :)

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Yes, in spite of the conditions we are in, our actions always come down to a choice and we can always choose to do better rather than worse.

Thanks a lot for the support.

I read about this experiment some time ago, but the way you described it makes one imagine it more vividly. Great job on this one!

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Thanks a lot. I appreciate your comment and I'm encouraged by it.

Wonderful!.. I enjoyed everybit of it. But as much as i love to watch movies.. I am shocked i haven't seen most of the movies mentioned except for prison break.
Bellick used to be a guy i hate when he was the warden but i almost felt for him when he made a sacrifice for the prisoners. Its amazing how ones mentality can switch that fast.

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Oh, thanks a lot. I think it was intended for us to hate Bellick. He was very devious and oppressive in the beginning because of his role as a warden. When things changed and he became an inmate in the Panama, he had to identify with the other side as completely as he identified with the guards which culminated in the ultimate sacrifice.

But another aspect of this research is that the inmates could get along better with the guards if they accepted that the guards are not really enemies but are just playing their role. If they accepted that the human psychology is bound to make the guards in those conditions sadistic, then they would be able to predict their behaviours and subsequently get into less trouble.

One of the most impressive studies of human behavior. We are capable of both great beauty and horrific inhumanity.
Good article

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Yes, thanks a lot.

This experiment tells a lot about human nature.

The mistake would be to think that we are different and could never turn that bad ourself.

I think about these guys going to Syria to join Isis and committing atrocities beyond belief.
Once in a position of power it's incredible to see how human beings can turn.

Thank you for putting such an incredible post together.

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Yes, with great power comes great responsibility. People do not do well when they have all the advantages. And that's why it is true that:

There is greater incentive for peace when there is equal balance of power.

As I said earlier, the problem is always thinking along the lines of this is "US" and that is "THEM". But there is really no us and them. Like Stanford Prison Experiment participants, we are just people, it is only our conditions that may change: We remain the same.

Thank you for your comment. I truly appreciate you.

I think this also applies to even our daily lives as things like work conditions or even academic environments have an effect on our behavior. Sometimes i come back from school and i get angry at my friends or i just sit down moody.

The experiment was really a thought-out one and i am amazed by the outcome.

I would love to see at least one of the movies about the experiment.

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The movies are interesting too. Since I discovered this experiments, I no longer expect police to be nice. When I meet them, in that moment, I quickly become obedient so they would forget for a while that we are not on the same side :)

So true, our environment has a great impact on our behaviour. As sson as I finished reading this post, Lord of the flies came to my mind. Has anyone read that book?