The Stanford Prison Disaster

It’s hard to believe that good people can do bad things. But it does happen.

We all know about the horrors of Nazi Germany. How millions of people were rounded up and slaughtered en masse, merely for being foreign, or gay, or disabled, or not white.

It’s horrific, to put it lightly. But in the aftermath of World War II, after the fall of Adolf Hitler’s regime, many of those who participated in the brutal activities feigned ignorance. Some even declared that they were just following orders.

Were they good people, who were just led astray? Or were they brutal sadists, who revelled in the suffering of others?

Well, no one can know for certain, it’s impossible. But it does raise some interesting questions regarding the minds of all humanity. Can we be that easily manipulated. Can a good person be convinced to do some extremely horrible things?

Perhaps, if they’re not alone. Because the collection of those millions were not done by any single individual, but by virtual armies, working together.

Could it be that if you’re surrounded by dozens of people doing the exact same thing you are, you feel less inclined to object?

In a way, this is exactly what psychology professor Philip Zimbardo attempted to examine when he conducted the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, back in 1971.

I say ‘infamous’ for several reasons, which I will get to. But first, I think it’s important to explain what the experiment actually was. Continue reading