Ming the Mechanic:
Stanford Prison Experiment

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Stanford Prison Experiment2003-12-02 09:19
picture by Flemming Funch

I had certainly heard about it before, but I didn't realize there were a website before Seb mentioned it. The Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 is one of the more enlightening and frightening demonstrations of how easily humans accept a fake reality as real, and act accordingly. College students volunteered to the experiment of acting as prisoners and prison guards in a two week experiment. The experiment had to be stopped after six days because it became way too real. 'Guards' turned into sadistic slave masters, 'prisoners' accepted their humiliations and had psychological breakdowns. Even the 'prisoners' parents, outside helpers like priests and lawyers, and even the psychologists running the experiment - all started treating it as reality and acting accordingly. The experiment was stopped because it was going so far that there was fear of people's health and sanity. But also because, for the first time, somebody walked in (another psychologist) and said "Hey, you have to stop this, you can't treat people like this". Until then everybody, including around 50 outsiders, had just gone along with it, and adopted the premises of the situation, even though they all knew that they weren't 'real'.
Less than 36 hours into the experiment, Prisoner #8612 began suffering from acute emotional disturbance, disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying, and rage. In spite of all of this, we had already come to think so much like prison authorities that we thought he was trying to "con" us -- to fool us into releasing him.

When our primary prison consultant interviewed Prisoner #8612, the consultant chided him for being so weak, and told him what kind of abuse he could expect from the guards and the prisoners if he were in San Quentin Prison. #8612 was then given the offer of becoming an informant in exchange for no further guard harassment. He was told to think it over.

During the next count, Prisoner #8612 told other prisoners, "You can't leave. You can't quit." That sent a chilling message and heightened their sense of really being imprisoned. #8612 then began to act "crazy," to scream, to curse, to go into a rage that seemed out of control. It took quite a while before we became convinced that he was really suffering and that we had to release him.
This is all rather horrible stuff, but very illuminating about our human tendency to be 'normal' and do what we think the circumstances demand of us. The experience of those volunteer prisoners in 1971 is, unfortunately, also very comparable to the experience that millions of real prisoners go through. And nobody's going to walk by and stop that experiment because it isn't right to treat people that way. Two million people are in prison in the United States.

Ironically, it was less than a month after the Stanford experiment, that the infamous riot broke out in Attica Prison in New York. The prisoners were demanding basic human rights. Instead New York's governor, Nelson Rockefeller, sent in the National Guard to take the prison by force and many guards and prisoners were killed.

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2 Dec 2003 @ 21:11 by Jon Husband @ : In Prison
Only 2 million in "prison" in the USA?

I guess it depends upon what you call prison...if you can only talk about certain things, and have to worry about whether the soup line called work will exist in a few months, or get your information from only a few powerful media companies, is your reality being created for you ? Is that a prison ?  

3 Dec 2003 @ 05:38 by ming : Prison Colonies
I guess the existence of official prisons creates the illusion that you're not in prison if you're not in one of those. And the existence of foreign dictatorships and starvation and wars in other countries creates the illusion that you're free here at home. So you don't notice the bars installed a little at a time around your life.  

3 Dec 2003 @ 17:47 by Didier @ : Das Experiment - watch the movie
There is a really good german movie based on this "experiment": www.dasexperiment.de

4 Dec 2003 @ 06:54 by jstarrs : An' don't forget.........
...........prisons are BIG business.
So, you can get them aliens from across the border to come over an' be cannon fodder an', if there's any that get outta line, stick 'em in jail, it'll pay!
Free labor (community grass cutting, stuff like that..)
Pretty smart, huh?  

4 Dec 2003 @ 11:31 by Justin @ : Prison Experiments
I watched a PBS special on this recently and I meant to find a copy as I came in halfway to the end of it. Thanks for posting the link.  

4 Dec 2003 @ 12:12 by Paul Hughes @ : I just wrote about this on my blog.
Thanks Ming, for writing this piece. This is an issue that has concerned me for a very long time. It inspired me to write my own commentary on the subject, which I titled "Prisons = Barbarism" and just posted to my blog at http://planetp.cc/"  

5 Dec 2003 @ 03:36 by lugon @ : I just wrote about this on my blog, too

There, I ask for counter-experiments. Any info on this?

Much like http://www.advogato.org and http://www.badvogato.org, I believe.  

5 Dec 2003 @ 06:53 by ming : Prisons
Great responses guys. Lots of work to do. The whole prison system is ridiculous, particularly in the U.S. Legalizing recreational drugs would remove 90% of all crime within weeks, I'm sure. Prisons are just a big slave labor business. An increasing number of them are privately owned businesses in the U.S.  

5 Dec 2003 @ 06:54 by ming : Positive manipulation
Lugon, that's a great point. Of course we need experiments showing how wonderful and productive normal people will be, if they're set up for it right. I do get to think of experiments in schools where two different teachers have been told different stories of their respective classes, which, unbeknownst to them had been picked randomly. One was told it was the brightest and most promising students in the school. The other that it was all the difficult, impossible students. And, lo and behold, each teacher taught accordingly and the classes ended up matching what the (fake) premise had said.  

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