Stanford Prison Experiment Violent Behavior

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Discuss what may drive people toward violent behavior against others based on Milgram's experiment and Stanford prison experiment. A particularly alarming trend of increasing violence is observed in modern society. In recent years, the whole world literally swept a wave of violence. It penetrated into all spheres of our life and became a universal means of resolving various kinds of conflicts. 

Contract killings, criminal squabbles, apartment bombings, banditry, hostage-taking, kidnapping, the physical elimination of competitors, extortion are only the most severe and obvious forms of physical violence that are affecting more and more citizens. Society cultivates customs and traditions of the criminal world, the ideology of violence penetrates the mass consciousness, and violence becomes a commonplace, everyday phenomenon. In order to determine what may encourage a person to perform violent actions against others, various researches and experiments were conducted.

Firstly, one of the most famous experiments in this sphere was performed by Zimbardo (1971) on the basis of Stanford University. Twenty specially selected most “average” and “normal” volunteers of 25–30 years old were placed in artificially created prison conditions. Under the “prison” one of the small corridors of the University was re-equipped. 

The task was not to create an exact copy of the prison, but to create conditions that reliably convey the atmosphere of this institution. The research hypothesis was as follows: the very assignment of the roles of “guards” and “prisoners” will lead to significantly different participants' behavioral responses and their interactions, different emotional states, attitudes towards themselves, and other indicators of coping and adapting to this new situation, even to the pathology (F. Zimbardo, 1971). Carnahan and McFarland (2007) extended this study by conducting their own experiment. 

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They criticized the newspaper ad, offered by Zimbardo to recruit participants, taking into consideration that the very wording of the announcement about the recruitment of volunteers for the Stanford experiment determined which people would respond to it. Psychologists tried to recruit people with two different ads. One of them exactly corresponded to the one that was used to recruit participants for the Stanford experiment, and in the other they removed the phrase about prison life. As a result, two different groups of volunteers were recruited. In particular, those who responded to the offer to take part in an experiment on prison life were more prone to aggression, authoritarianism, narcissism, Machiavellianism, and domination in society. 

The indicators of the level of empathy and altruism among these participants were lower than those who responded to the announcement corrected by scientists (T. Carnahan, S. McFarland, 2007). Haslam and Reicher (2011) performed one more experiment using this methodology. The strength of this study is that the conditions of the experiment were set differently. The psychologists set the hypothesis that the results of the experiment depend on the conditions specified initially. The experiment lasted for 8 days and was filmed by television channel BBC. It also had guards and prisoners, and the former had the opportunity to punish or encourage the latter. In the same way as in the Stanford experiment, the participants who played the role of prisoners were placed in prison rooms for three people. 

However, the experiment at some points differed from Stanford, in particular, because there were no rules for the guards: they had to figure out how to make the prison work well (S. A. Haslam, S. D. Reicher, 2011). The results of this study were different from those of the Stanford prison experiment because this experiment eventually led to a riot of prisoners, which the guards could not suppress. According to these researches, a person’s aggressive behavior towards others may depend not only on his personal predispositions but also on external factors affecting him, such as a place or instructions from people of higher rank, which lay some expectations or demands.

Moreover, Milgram (1963) also tried to establish what causes violent behavior towards others among people, using a completely different methodology. The purpose of his experiment was to find out how much pain a person could inflict on another, an absolutely ordinary person, provided that his work obligations require it. Previously, participants were given misleading information that the effect of painful sensations on the function of memory is being studied. And the participants in the experiment were the experimenter, the person performing the role of 'Teacher' (subject), and the person playing the role of 'Learner' (actor). 

During the experiment, the “Learner” had to memorize the words on the list, and the “Teacher” - to test his memory, punishing him in case of an error with a short current discharge, systematically increasing the voltage up to 450 volts (S. Milgram, 1963). The results were the following: 26 of the 40 subjects, instead of taking pity on the victim, continued to increase the voltage to the maximum until the researcher gave orders to finish the experiment. Similarly, Beauvois (2012) found that authorities could determine people’s behavior. He and his colleagues decided to check whether people would also obey authority if he had a different basis. 

They reproduced Milgram’s experimental scheme as accurately as possible in the television show, everything was the same, only it was presented not as a scientific study, but as a television game, and the instructions were given not by the experimental scientists, but by the presenters of this TV show. It was also found that people are less likely to obey the suggestions of the leading experimenter when the sentences resemble an order. However, when the experimenter emphasizes the importance of experiments for science, people submit more eagerly.

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