Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison
STANFORD UNIV CA DEPT OF PSYCHOLOGY
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Interpersonal dynamics in a prison environment were studied experimentally by designing a functional simulation of a prison in which subjects role-played prisoners and guards for an extended period of time. To assess the power of the social forces on the emergent behavior in this situation, alternative explanations in terms of pre-existing dispositions were eliminated through subject selection. Many of the subjects ceased distinguishing between prison role and their prior self-identities. When this occurred, a sample of normal, healthy American college students fractionated into a group of prison guards who seemed to derive pleasure from insulting, threatening, humiliating, and dehumanizing their peers--those who by chance selection had been assigned to the prisoner role. The typical prisoner syndrome was one of passivity, dependency depression, helplessness, and self- deprecation.