A situation has a powerful role in your life.
The Stanford Prison Experiment conducted at Stanford University on the days of August 14–20, 1971 led by Professor Philip Zimbardo investigated the psychological effects of situations in an individual’s life. The experiment used college students as a research group who volunteered as prisoners, guards, while Professor Zimbardo served as the superintendent. The experiment was conducted in a mock prison at the university.
The experiment was abandoned on the sixth day after the guards started enforcing authoritarian measures, which resulted in psychological torture to prisoners. Conversely, the “prisoners” became passive and accepted psychological abuse. Several “prisoners” left the experiment on the grounds of depression.
Lessons from the Stanford Prison Experiment
- A situation has a powerful role in the behavior of a person
The way you behave shows if you are a prisoner or a free person, a leader or a servant.
Once taken to prison, a person starts behaving like a prisoner. In the prison experiment, the “prisoners” became passive and accepted psychological torture. On the other hand, the guards became unruly when in positions of power. The guards were students of sound mind, but when put in positions of power, they became abusive.
Robert Greene, in his book, “The Laws of Human Nature,” states that everyone has a shadow, which is the dark side. People know that their dark shadow is undesirable and learn to suppress it. However, situations reveal their true character.
2. A position ascribed to a person has a significant effect on behavior.
People behave according to social roles and in accordance with the demands of the situation. A good person becomes evil because of the situation at hand. The lessons from the Stanford Prison Experiment apply to understand the dynamics of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
The guards at Abu Ghraib who tortured the prisoners were qualified military people who served in various divisions in the U.S military. Despite going through the military qualification exercises, they became sadistic because of the situation. They were placed in a position of power, and started behaving in a way that shows their power.
According to Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, only a few people can maintain high ethical and moral standards when placed in a prison environment.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is consistent with the Social Cognitive Theory, which states that learning occurs in social context with a dynamic and reciprocal interaction of the person, environment and behavior. Your behavior is a combination of social interactions. This means the people you meet every day shape your perception about life.
Change your circumstances by changing your thoughts.
To change your life, you must change your circumstances by changing your thoughts. You can change your circumstances by maintaining a particular line of thought, which is consistent with your goals. In the prison experiment, the guards became abusive and sadistic because they held abusive and sadistic thoughts in their minds. The prisoners became passive and allowed psychological torture because they held thoughts of powerlessness.
To exercise power, an individual should learn to recognize the effect of thoughts on circumstances. James Allen said,
“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will bring forth- if no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein and will continue to produce their kind.”
Therefore, cultivate your mind with thoughts of love and progress.
Keep in touch for my next article on how to guard your mind against negative influences. Stay safe.