Maybe we’re not so bad after all.
Interesting piece from the BPS Research Digest about the Stanford Prison Experiment. That was the 1971 experiment in which a group of students was divided into jailers and inmates. The ‘jailers’ eventually became so brutal in their treatment of their ‘inmate’ peers that the experiment had to be abandoned. The lead investigator, Philip Zimbardo, used this result to argue that even good people will turn bad in certain situations.
I’d always accepted the results of this experiment at face value and it’s been used to explain, amongst other things, the atrocities at Abu Ghraib. What I hadn’t realised was the range of criticisms leveled at the experiment’s methodology and conclusions. These culminated in the 2002 BBC Prison Study, in which a similar experiment led to a far more nuanced and interesting outcome. Read more ‘Stanford Prison’ and our capacity for cruelty