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College Should Be More Like Prison – 11 Interesting Lessons From The Stanford Prison Experiment


College should be more like prison – Learn more with My Education Compass! Nine young guys in the Palo Alto area received visits from neighborhood police officers early on August 17, 1971. In what was being called a scary campus college university experiment.

The males were searched, handcuffed, and led into the back of a waiting police car while detained for breaching Penal Codes 211 and 459 (armed robbery and burglary). Their neighbors saw this as this happened. 

The males were driven to a police station in Palo Alto, where they were booked, fingerprinted, sent to a holding cell, and given blindfolds. 

The Stanford County Prison, also home to Stanford University’s psychology department, was the destination for their final journey on why college should be more like prison.

1. Why Were They Taken?

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They volunteered to participate in the Stanford Prison Experiment, one of the most divisive social psychology research ever conducted.

It is the topic of a brand-new drama with the same name (rather than a documentary, starring Billy Crudup as Philip Zimbardo, the primary investigator. On July 17, it debuted.

The study participants were middle-class college students who were declared “normal” after responding to questions about their family backgrounds, physical and mental health histories, and social conduct. 

They were separated into convicts and guards based on the outcome of a coin toss.

According to the legend developed around the experiment, the guards started humiliating and torturing the detainees within 24 hours of the study’s initiation, with little to no training. 

The convicts, in turn, lost their personalities and became obedient, accepting the maltreatment without raising much of a fuss. 

The experiment, intended to last two weeks, was halted after six days due to the unusual behavior of everyone engaged.

2. Which Studies Supported The Theory

Less than ten years prior, the Milgram obedience study had demonstrated that ordinary people were willing to shock their fellow citizens with electrical currents they believed to be unpleasant and perhaps fatal. 

The Stanford experiment, “college should be more like prison”, which showed how easily ordinary people could become vicious oppressors if given too much authority – college should be more like prison, served as a reminder of those conclusions to many. 

More than 45 years later, many people still refer to the study as a scary campus college university experiment and to explain things like the guards’ actions at Abu Ghraib and the rampant police brutality in America. 

3. What Does The Stanford Prison Experiment Prove?

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It is said that the Stanford Prison Experiment proves that we all have atavistic inclinations that, given the right circumstances, could lead us to become dictators.

However, the implications of the Stanford Prison Experiment are only partially evident. The study has been plagued by uncertainty from the start. 

It implies that ordinary people have hideous potential but also illustrates how our environment shapes our conduct. 

Was the study about flawed systems or our fallibility? Did it make any specific discoveries about prisons, or were they more general? 

What was the genuine conclusion of the Stanford Prison Experiment? Is it true college should be more like prison? Is it just a scary campus college university?

4. What Did The Stanford Prison Experiment Show?

The experiment’s seemingly straightforward setup—prisoners, guards, a makeshift jail, and some ground rules—has much to do with its scary campus college university. 

The Stanford County Prison was a highly staged location, and the guards and the inmates behaved in ways primarily dictated by how their respective positions were depicted. 

The experiment’s purpose—to simulate the experience of working and living in a harsh jail—must be understood to appreciate its significance fully.

Zimbardo had established the guards’ priorities from the beginning. The procedures surrounding each prisoner’s arrival were described by Zimbardo in a presentation to his Stanford colleagues shortly after the study’s conclusion. 

5. More About The “Scary Campus College University Experiment”

Each man was stripped and searched, “deloused,” and then given a uniform consisting of a numbered gown, which he called a “dress,” with a heavy bolted chain near the ankle, loose-fitting rubber sandals, and a cap made from a woman’s nylon stocking. 

“Real male prisoners don’t wear dresses,” said Zimbardo, “but real male prisoners, we have learned, do feel humiliated, do feel emasculated, and we thought we might get the same results very quickly by putting various men in a dress without any underclothes.” 

The prisoners’ heads weren’t shaved but wore stocking caps. (The jail guard in the film “Cool Hand Luke” inspired the mirrored sunglasses, whistles, and nightsticks the guards received.)

6. How Did The Guards Operate

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The guards frequently worked without precise, real-time orders. Zimbardo participated in the experiment and took on the role of the jail warden. 

Thus, it was somewhat independent. (The “warden” of the jail was also a researcher.) 

Sometimes, arguments between prisoners and guards escalated, breaking an explicit rule against using physical force that both prisoners and guards had read before signing up for the study “college should be more like prison”. 

The message to the guards was crystal clear when the “superintendent” and “warden” disregarded these incidents, everything is fine, continue doing what you’re doing. 

Because the participants knew the audience was watching, the absence of comments could be interpreted as approval.

They may have been motivated to perform because they felt they were being watched. One of the guards, Dave Eshelman, claimed having “consciously created” his character as a guard. 

“In high school and college, I participated in various drama shows. I was quite accustomed to adopting a different character before entering the stage, Eshelman remarked. 

He went on to explain, “I was kind of running my experiment in there by saying, ‘How far can I push these men and how much abuse will these individuals take before they say, ‘Knock it off?’”

7. What Else Influenced The Experiment?

college should be more like prison,scary campus college university, College Should Be More Like Prison – 11 Interesting Lessons From The Stanford Prison Experiment

Other, more subtle influences also influenced the experiment. It’s often reported that the study participants were regular guys, and a battery of tests found them “normal” and healthy. 

They were a self-selected group, though, as they answered a newspaper ad looking for participants in “a psychological study of prison life.” 

The psychologist’s Sam McFarland and Thomas Carnahan investigated whether language alone tipped the scales in a 2007 study. 

They remade the original advertisement and then released a different one without the term “prison life.” 

They discovered that the responses to the two adverts varied regarding the results of a series of psychological tests. 

They scored much lower on tests of empathy and compassion and significantly higher on measures of aggressiveness, authoritarianism, machiavellianism, narcissism, and social dominance in those who believed they would be participating in a jail study.

8. Reactions of Participants

Moreover, behavioral tendencies were not uniform even within that self-selected sample. 

The study’s notoriety is primarily based on the conceit that the students collectively responded by sacrificing their identities to take on the roles of oppressive “guards” and subservient “prisoners.” 

However, the individuals reacted in various ways to the jail environment. While specific guard shifts were particularly inhumane, others continued to be so. 

Many of the ostensibly submissive inmates rebelled. Prisoner Richard Yacco recalled, “I was willing to go into solitary confinement and resist what one guard ordered me to do. 

As inmates, we learned to work together and engage in passive resistance, which allowed us to start some trouble.

9. College Should Be More Like Prison – Would It Be Beneficial

Would the convicts and guards have behaved differently if the Stanford Prison Experiment had been conducted in a less harsh environment? Stephen Reicher and Alexander Haslam, two psychologists, set out to investigate this in December 2001. 

They collaborated with the BBC’s documentaries department throughout an eight-day experiment to partially duplicate Zimbardo’s arrangement. 

Their convicts were housed in three-person cells that closely resembled the design of the Stanford County Jail, and their guards, who also wore uniforms and had discretion over how to administer incentives and punishments, were granted the same authority. 

10. Rules and Instructions

college should be more like prison,scary campus college university, College Should Be More Like Prison – 11 Interesting Lessons From The Stanford Prison Experiment

The primary distinction was that there were no predetermined expectations in this prison. Before the arrival of the prisoners, the guards were requested to establish rules, and their instructions were limited to ensuring the prison’s proper operation. 

The BBC Prison Study, as it eventually came to be known, differed from the Stanford experiment in a few ways, including prisoner dress code.

Additionally, the prisoners were initially told that they could become guards through good behavior, but on the third day, that offer was withdrawn and the roles were made permanent.

11. The Stanford Prison Experiment and College

After receiving more than 70 responses to an advertisement for a “psychological study of prison life,” researchers chose 24 participants who they deemed to be in good physical and mental condition. 

The paid participants, who received $15 per day, were randomly split into equal groups of guards and convicts. 

Guards were given mirrored sunglasses that prohibited eye contact and instructed not to harm inmates physically. 

College Should Be More Like Prison Lessons From The Stanford Prison Experiment…

In a mock prison set up in the basement of a campus building, inmates were “arrested” by real police and given to the experimenters. 

Then, humiliations that mimicked the conditions of an actual prison were inflicted upon the prisoners. 

Each prisoner was required to carry a chain padlocked around one ankle and wear a “dress” as a uniform to immediately create an “atmosphere of oppression,” in keeping with Zimbardo’s goals. The experimenters watched and recorded each subject.

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