18 May 2015

Stanford Prison Experiment Mirrors Abu Ghraib

The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts

The college students role-playing guards and prisoners in a mock prison experiment conducted at Stanford University in the summer of 1971 were mirrored in the real guards and real prison in Iraq of 2003. Not only had I seen such events, I had been responsible for creating the conditions that allowed such abuses to flourish. The experiment succeeded all too well in creating some of what is worst in real prisons, but the findings came at the expense of human suffering. Compared to the toxic and lethal nature of real civilian and military prisons, our Stanford Prison was relatively benign.

I realized watching some of these images made me relive the worst scenes; the nakedness; the sexually humiliating games. These comparable abuses had been imposed by college student guards on their college student prisoners. I knew that in the Abu Ghraib Prison, powerful forces had to have been at work. It was apparent to me that the System was now struggling mightily to conceal its own complicity in torture.

The primary lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment is that Situation matters. Some situations can exert such powerful influence over us that we can be led to behave in ways we would not, could not, predict was possible in advance. We undergo significant character transformations when caught up in the crucible of social forces. Social situations have profound effects on the behavior and mental functioning of individuals, groups, and national leaders.

Stanford Prison Experiment

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