Comparative Critique





Comparative Critique

A team of researchers led by Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment aimed at finding out the psychological effects of prison life. They had intended to continue with the experiment for two weeks but they called it off on the sixth day. During this time, they noticed how, despite the participants knowing that they were in an experiment; all of them took their respective roles seriously. The researchers had created a mock prison and they had divided the participants into guards and prisoners. Although the experiment took place for a few days, the researchers noted that it led to great and significant changes among the prisoners. The guards took their roles seriously. Some of them displayed extreme authority and they treated the prisoners harshly. Others were kind to the prisoners and they did not punish them. The prisoners changed significantly and some of them started to believe that they were in a real prison. During the course of the experiment, many events happened and the researchers noted changes among all the people involved.

The experiment revealed a lot concerning human behavior. The researchers were surprised by the reaction of the prisoners and the guards and the changes that occurred in their manner of behavior and reasoning. They also realized that the experiment had changed them as well. They had become in the experiment since its inception. Zimbardo realized that his perceptions concerning the experiment had changed as well. He had begun taking the experiment seriously. He had taken on the role of the superintendent and he gave the guards the freedom they needed to act out their roles of maintaining order in the prison. This meant allowing different forms of abuse to take place within the prison.

According to Lee Ross and Richard E. Nisbett, people can change their behavior and character based on the situation. The circumstances that a person is in makes him change their personality and character. Therefore, it becomes difficult to ascribe a particular character to a person because he or she can change at any time. The experiment revealed how a situation could change someone’s behavior. In one case, one of the participants had started demonstrating signs of illness and Zimbardo was forced to release him. However, despite his illness, he was unwilling to go when he heard the other prisoners saying negative things about him. His behavior was affected by the situation. To demonstrate the power of the situation further, the participant changed his mind instantly when Zimbardo reminded him that he was in an experiment. The individual changed his character quickly depending on the situation at the time.

It is difficult for people to understand human behavior. Ross and Nesbett note that despite acquiring knowledge on sociology people cannot predict social behavior or make decisions concerning individuals and groups. In addition, knowledge about a person’s past behavior may not help much in predicting how the person will react to a given situation. Zimbardo witnessed this when conducting the experiment. Despite his knowledge and the fact that he and the other researchers had conducted personality tests on the individual participants, he was not able to predict how the prisoners and the guards behaved.

The researchers had spent time evaluating the candidates before deciding to settle on the final participants. They thought that they could use the knowledge they had to determine the outcome of the events. However, this was not the case. Zimbardo was not able to explain the decisions made by the participants or some of the influences they used when making their decisions. People have a tendency to overestimate the influence of personality traits as influences when making decisions. The situation that a person is in is more powerful in determining how an individual will behave. Details concerning the situation will be more beneficial in trying to understand or determine how the individual will behave. The mock prison resembled a real prison. The researchers had made the situation more convincing since the beginning of the research when the individuals were arrested in their homes. Furthermore, the prison environment contributed in determining how the participants behaved.

Zimbardo and his colleagues made attribution errors by thinking that they could predict how the prisoners would behave in the course of the experiment. Therefore, they were surprised at many instances when the prisoners and the guards failed to behave to their expectations. In one case, Zimbardo expected the prisoners to identify with, and support the newest prisoner, who had decided to rebel by going on a hunger strike. He expected that the others prisoners would consider their colleague a hero because of his decision. With every kind of punishment that the guards gave him, the researcher continued to raise his expectations on how the other prisoners would behave. However, the other prisoners turned against their colleague and they began supporting the guards. This surprised Zimbardo because it went against his predictions. The other prisoners considered their fellow inmate a troublemaker because of his actions.

People will understand and interpret the same situation differently. Zimbardo witnessed this among the participants involved in the research. Although the guards had not been instructed on how to behave, they divided themselves in three categories. Zimbardo noted that some of the guards were strict but fair in their approach. The second group was the kindhearted guards who were not able to punish the prisoners. The guards could even do small favors for the prisoners. The third group comprised of those who were harsh and brutal in their approach. This group devised ways of punishing the prisoners. They enjoyed the power they had and they delighted in causing suffering among the prisoners.

Among the prisoners, the participants reacted differently to the same situation. During the rebellion, some of them were not involved in the planning or executing and they were considered the good ones. Later on in the study, Zimbardo observed that prisoners reacted differently to their situation. They all faced the same situation while in prison and they were subject to the same conditions. In one case, one of the prisoners fought with the guards. In another case, a prisoner became sick. Other prisoner reacted emotionally to their situation. Others chose to cooperate with the guards and they did everything that was required of them.

The Stanford experiment showed the challenges encountered when trying to predict human behavior. Despite the acquisition of knowledge from various disciplines, it is difficult for researchers to predict how people will behave. People will react differently in the same situations. They will encounter the same challenges and obstacles but they will have different responses. While most people tend to focus on past behavior and personality traits as a model for behavior, such factors are not as powerful and influential as the situation. The situation will determine how a person will act at a point in time. It will override the personality traits of an individual.

Works Cited:

Ross, Lee and Richard, Nisbett E. “The Power of Situations.” The Person and the Situation: Perspectives of Social Psychology. United Kingdom: Pinter & Martin Publishers, 2011. Print  

Zimbardo, Philip G. Stanford Prison Experiment. Web. 9 October 2014

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