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Summary of Zimbardo, P.

(2007) The Lucifer Effect; Random House; Chapter 11

The SPE: Ethics and extension The perversion of human perfectibility


Every human being has the potential for the best and the worst The guards of the prison were not bad guys. Indeed, they were selected because they had profiles of "extra-good" persons. However, the situation they were immerse in was TOTAL and the impact was greater than anything they could imagine before Fundamental human needs that can be perverted Desire to associate, to accept group norms: Can be perverted into blind obedience Need for autonomy and control: can be perverted into cruelty Need for consistency and rationality: Can be perverted into rationalizing wrong-headed decisions Need to know and to understand our environment and our relationship to it (the one who makes scientists): Can be perverted into isolation, frustration Need for stimulation: Can be perverted into being more vulnerable to boredom

Ethical reflections: Was the pain of the experiment worth it?


The ethics of interventions: Every act of intervention is an act of ethics Most interventors want good, but the cost/benefit measure is in their subjective values Are all the parental interventions ethically correct? Absolute ethics: embodied in common codes of conduct (The SPE was unethical) It was worse for the guards, to elicit such horrible behaviors in them Not disclosing in advance was unethical It failed to terminate sooner, even when the prisoners and guards were suffering to lengthy extremes Relative ethics: The loss/gain balance Ethical dilemma: Can a given researcher create a balance between believed necessaries and well being and dignity? In the particular case of the SPE, the prison situation caught even the outsiders like the priest, the parole officer and the parents of the prisoners - There must be a board overseeing the experimenters, so they are not carried away by the situations - There was no-one above the principal scientist to oversee his actions
Thank Goodness, there were no lawsuits following the experiment, because the USA was less litigious in the 70's Prof. Zimbardo was the one who asked for a post-experiment ethics evaluation, and guidelines for future experiments were created as a result of that

Positive consequences to the participants - However, dr. Zimbardo kept contact with the students, especially the guards, and made sure to try to make them understand that what they did was not a diagnostic of their dormant monstrous true personalities, but a diagnostic of a pervasive situation they were in - Many new fields of study such as social engineering have their roots in experiments like this - Unexpected personal gains to SPE participants and staff
9 9 9 9 9 9 The participants didn't gain any amount of money to balance what they suffered In the last survey, all of the participants were thankful for have been a participant, but would not volunteer for a new one One of the prisoners elected psychology as a result of the experiment and now he is a prison psychologist One of the guards who was particularly cruel and imaginative, has now trouble firing un-performing employees in his business for fear of harming them! Others also became prison consultants Zimbardo married Christina Maslach, the person who made him come to senses and stop the experiment. They were still married after 25 years

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Summary of Zimbardo, P. (2007) The Lucifer Effect; Random House; Chapter 11

Going forward, more experimenting and good consequences


Shyness and self-imposed prison Many people surrender to their own shyness Zimbardo created the Stanford Shyness Project Time gets distorted in prison: For example: casinos don't allow clocks so people are prisoners in that environment, in an enlarged present The situation can elicit pathologies in healthy individuals (this is kind of obvious, for example, if I put a healthy individual in a tub full of salty water for a long time, the skin will start to crack and s/he will develop a pathology!) Zimbardo has spoken even to Congress to try to abolish the prison system Many modern reality shows follow the spirit of the prison experiment Many real life prison torture techniques are disturbingly similar to the SPE The SPE has inspired many movies, books and has its own website

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