Your professor will not be happy with you if he says the Stanford Prison Experiment shows human nature and you say it shows the nature of white middle class college-aged boys.
Like he will not be happy at all.
For real though. That experiment. Scary shit.
This reminds me of a discussion that I read once which said Lord of the Flies would have turned out a hell of a lot differently if it was a private school of young girls (who are expected to be responsible and selfless instead), or a public school where the children weren’t all from an inherently entitled, emotionally stunted social class (studies have shown that people in lower socioeconomic classes show more compassion for others).
Or that the same premise with children raised in a different culture than the toxic and opressive British Empire and it’s emphasis on social hierarchy and personal wealth and status.
And that what we perceive as the unchangable truth deep inside humanity because of things like Lord of the Flies and the Stanford Prison Experiment, is just the base truths about what happens when you remove any accountabilty controlling one social group with an overwhelming sense of entitlement and an inability to feel compassion.
I will always reblog this.
I just wanna say that the Lord of the Flies was explicitly written about high-class private school boys to make this exact point. Golding wrote Lord of the Flies partially to refute an earlier novel about this same subject: The Coral Island by
R.M. Ballantyne. Golding thought it was absolutely absurd that a bunch of privileged little shits would set up some sort of utopia, so his book shows them NOT doing that.
This is also generally true about most psychological experiments.
There’s an experiment called “The Ultimatum Game”. It goes something like this.
- Subject A is given an amount of money (Say, $100).
- Subject A must offer Subject B some percentage of that money.
- If Subject B accepts Subject A’s offer, both get the agreed upon amount of money. If Subject B refuses, no one gets any money.
The most common result was believed to be that people favored 50/50 splits. Anything too low was rejected; people wanted fairness. This was believed to be universal.
And then a researcher went to Peru to do the experiment with members of the indigenous Machiguenga population, and was baffled to find that the results were totally different.
Because, to the Machiguenga, refusing any amount of free money (even an unfair amount) was considered crazy.
So the researcher took his work on the road (to 14 other ‘small scale’ societies and tribes) , and to his shock found the results varied wildly depending on where the test was done.
In fact, the “universal” result? Was an outlier.
And that’s the problem. 96% percent of test subjects for psychological research come from 12% of the population. Stuff that we consider to be universal facts of human nature… even things like optical illusions, just… aren’t.
You can read an article about it here. But the crux of it is that psychology is plagued with confirmation bias, and people are shaped more by their environment than we realize.
I remember reading that the removal of a single word changed the initial test scores on recreations of the Stanford Experiment test pool. Of course, they weren’t full recreations, because of how unethical the original experiment was. What they did was look into the initial scores of the test population, and someone went ‘Huh, all the test subjects were technically sane, but these scores are way off the national averages for xyz’. They compared notes with other people, got some backing, and came up with a test for the test itself.
So they tried to recreate the test pool for the experiment by changing up the ad a bit and testing the psychology of people who applied. Something very interesting was discovered that could have entirely skewed the final result.
The ad itself.
By changing the ad to hide that the simulated environment would be a prison, the test pool changed entirely, even among the same age, area, and gender. People who signed up for a simulated prison environment were shown to have higher levels of aggression, quicker tempers, and to be more sadistic. People who signed up for a simulated environment were calmer, more empathetic, and less likely to react with angry outbursts.
The test was biased before it even began. Again, even people who otherwise fit the original specifications (college-aged men from the Stanford area) scored far differently than the people actually involved in the experiment. They were simply less likely to sign up for a prison-based experiment than people who were prone to aggression.
TL;DR: Sane people can be aggressive as hell and the Stanford Experiment was too biased to be a representation of the average population.
Question: how similar are the biased characteristics of people who sign up for a simulated prison experiment vs people who apply to work at a real prison?