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Zimbardo’s Prison Situation Experiment

Philip Zimbardo, who was in charge of the Stanford prison study whereby college students were selected randomly to play as the prisoners or guards in a simulated jail strongly believes that his experiment is similar to the Abu Gharib prison situation.

According to Zimbardo prisons have an environment where there is an unequal balance of power. Thus, even normal people who do not have any previous psychological problems can change and become abusive and brutal.  Zimbardo asserts that it is a case of putting good apples in bad apparel and the barrel corrupts whatever it touches. The prison situation is a good example of the power differential. The guards have power over the prisoners who in this case are powerless. The only way to help prevent abuse of power is by having strict leadership. Zimbardo explained that in a case like a prison where the guards and prisoners are trapped in some kind of alien setting, and they do not have a common culture, the situation would result in abuse. According to Zimbardo, not many soldiers commit such abuse, but only a few of them will go to such inhuman extent. Most people will follow the rules when in new situations. Zimbardo asserts that everyone has the potential to do good or evil.  The human mind can guide one into doing anything imaginable.  The mind can guide us into creating hell or heaven on earth.   It all depends on the situation where an individual has been enmeshed.  The soldiers mistreating the prisoners in Abu Ghraib were in an evil barrel. However, Zimbardo said such things can be prevented without transparency, accountability, and respect towards the enemy.  The captive relationship that encourages such behavior is the power of differential. The guards have total control over the prisoners. The behavior is also contributed by a lack of external institutional checks on the guards’ power. Social labeling also plays a role in such behavior. The guards view the foreigners as being less human beings.

According to Zimbardo, the forces that lead to such behavior can be a failure in leadership, dehumanization of the enemy, lack of personal accountability, and even diffusion of responsibility. Luckily, it is possible to prevent such atrocities from happening again. Zimbardo has several suggestions to help prevent such issues from occurring. One of his suggestions is to bring military experts correction on board to help model the U. S prisons. The other suggestion is to release the detainees who are no longer a security threat. Other suggestions from other experts to help curb the problem are training, staffing, direction, supervision, and accountability. Most of the guards had not been trained to work in prisons. They did not have any training needed to interrogate the prisoners of war or terrorists. The training should be such that the guards are educated on how a lack of personal accountability can lead to abuse. The problem could also be because of having fewer guards and many prisoners. Thus, it encourages brutality. There is a need for proper planning to avoid imbalance. Supervision is also needed to ensure that the unit commander pays frequent visits to the prison. There should be explicit procedures that will ensure that there is full accountability. There is no doubt that such measures will help in preventing the problem from occurring.



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