The study by Haney, Banks and Zimbardo falls under the category of an infamous’ psychological study. The study was funded by the US Navy as they wanted to investigate the causes of the conflict between prisoners and guards in their Naval Prisons. It had been suggested the guards were simply apathetic, sadistic people and were drawn to the job because of this. Prisoners were said to be aggressive people and brought this mentality to prisons. Phillip Zimbardo was curious about whether this was true. Was the cause of this conflict due to the nature of the guards and prisoners? (Dispositional). Or was it the prison situation that causes this behaviour? (Situational).
Aim: To look at the situational and dispositional hypotheses
Sample: The sample was initially obtained through a newspaper advertisement requesting male volunteers for a study of Prison Life’ for$15 per day. From the 75 first obtained, 24 were selected through personality tests based on stability, maturity and lack of involvement in antisocial behaviour. The sample consisted mainly of college students.
Procedure: The prison’ was a basement corridor in the Stanford University psychology department converted into 2×3 cells, a solitary confinement room (a closet), a yard’ room and observation room. The guards’ wore khaki shirts and trousers, batons and reflective sunglasses. The prisoners’ wore loose smocks with ID numbers, no underwear, a lock and chain around one ankle and a nylon stocking cap. Participants were randomly assigned to role of either prisoner or guard. The prisoners’ were arrested outside their houses by real police and taken to a real police station for fingerprinting and processing. They were then driven blindfolded to the mock prison where they were stripped naked, deloused’ (sprayed with deodorant) and dressed in their prisoner uniform. Prisoner remained in the prison 24 hour a day and followed a schedule of work assignments, rest periods and meal and toilet visits. Guards worked 8 hour shifts and were give the instruction the maintain a reasonable degree of order and not to use physical violence.
Results: The effect of the prison simulation were assessed by videotape observations, self report questionnaires and interviews. The experiment was terminated after 6 days as opposed to 2 weeks due to the pathological reactions shown by the prisoners and guards. Prisoners showed what was termed the Pathological Prisoner Syndrome’; passivity, extreme obedience and dependence following a failed rebellion. Half of the prisoners showed signs of depression, fits of rage and had to be released early. All but two of the prisoners said they would forfeit the money of they were released early. These reactions were due to the loss of the personal identity, emasculation and dependency as result of the arbitrary control of the guards. The guards showed the Pathology of Power’; enjoyment of the power at their disposal which led to the dehumanising of the prisoners.
Conclusions: In relation to the behaviour in prisons the situational hypothesis is correct. Perfectly normal people can become sadistic or passive.