A Discussion on the Morality of the Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanford Prison Experiment

It is difficult to discuss the morality of the Stanford Prison Experiment without feeling conflicted to some degree. It appears to be undeniable that the experiment was hugely important for the field of psychology. There is a reason that it is cited in psychology classes like this one around the country: it gave us keen insight into how the brain works. It tells us that it is possible for individuals to simply slip into a role given to them for almost no reason and completely inhabit it.

It has far-reaching implications that have been studied time and time again. The other side of the argument is also very compelling. After seeing with one’s own eyes the psychological (and at times physical) torment that the subjects of the experiment went through, most would agree that the experiment went too far. It is this conflict that makes the story so compelling. In 2015 alone, two full-length feature films were made about the Stanford Prison Experiment.

There’s a reason for that. There is a desire to know what humanity is capable of when the traditional rules of society are stripped away. The Stanford Prison Experiment shows us the answer to that question, for that it is a valuable study. However, that does not make it morally right.

It feels a bit unfair for me to state what rights I would want as a prisoner, because unlike the actual subjects of the experiment, I know how bad things became. To the group of young men in 1971, this was a way to make a few quick bucks.

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They had no way of knowing exactly what they were in for by participating. That being said, if I was forced to pick my rights there would be a few that would I would absolutely demand. The simplest of which is that no harm would come to me physically. This was a rule included the experiment, but I would take it a step further. The Stanford Prison Experiment website states that “Each prisoner was systematically searched and stripped naked. He was then deloused with a spray, to convey our belief that he may have germs or lice”. I would demand that I could not be forced to strip naked or be subjected to being sprayed with a hose. This is not exactly standard prison procedure anyway, it should not be included. I would also demand that I be given untainted, clean meals three times a day. The lack of pants would also be a rather notable deal breaker. Above all though, I would want very clear assurances that I could walk out on the experiment at any time. Though, again, it is easier for me to judge these young men now, having seen their story.

It is harder to cast myself in the role of the experimenter than the prisoner. Probably because I never would have come up with an experiment like this. Though there are some things about the way he behaved that I would like to think I would do differently. The first is that he needed to make the rules about leaving the experiment more clear to the subjects. The second, and in my opinion the most important, is that the experimenter sided far too much with the prison guards. One alarming example of this is how he participated in an elaborate ruse to fool the parents of the prisoners, so that they would not know how awful things were in the “prison”. According to him “When one mother told me she had never seen her son looking so bad, I responded by shifting the blame from the situation to her son. ‘What’s the matter with your boy? Doesn’t he sleep well?’ Then I asked the father, ‘Don’t you think your boy can handle this?””. He is clearly helping out the guards in this situation and I do not believe he should have. The guards created the toxic and awful environment of the faux-prison and they should have had to deal with the consequences of doing so. That was the experimenter’s most glaring flaw.

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A Discussion on the Morality of the Stanford Prison Experiment. (2021, Dec 21). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-discussion-on-the-morality-of-the-stanford-prison-experiment/

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