by BAILIE SCHEER
On Oct. 5, I had the opportunity to go to Akron, Ohio to attend a speech by Philip Zimbardo, a famous psychologist who performed the controversial Stanford Prison Experiment 40 years ago.
In this talk, he related his experiment with the aspects of good and evil.
The Stanford Prison Experiment consisted of 12 men: six guards and six prisoners. Each of these men were chosen for their positions by the toss of a coin, so it was completely random. The prisoners were brought in by the real police on charges that they never truly committed. Once in the “prison,” which was really the basement of Stanford University. They were stripped naked and given a tunic to wear with prison numbers on it. Zimbardo wanted to strip them of their manliness and identity. Therefore, they would only be known by their number from then on out.
This experiment was to last two weeks, but the second day into it, a prisoner had a break down and had to go home. That same day, the prisoners revolted, pushing their beds against the doors and calling the guards crude names. This started a war between the guards and the prisoners.
The guards were not allowed to physically harm the prisoners, but they could make them do physical work. They sometimes made them strip and sexualized them. Due to these poor conditions for both the guards and the prisoners, the experiment was cut short and lasted only six days.
Zimbardo wanted to find out what prison life would do to an individual. During this he found out that it didn’t only affect the men, but also himself. He let things go that he should not have, and he realized that in his mind, he actually thought he was running a prison.
During his experiment, he saw strong college-aged men turn into men who believed they were within the real walls of a prison, even though they were only in the basement of Stanford University. He placed nice, genuine men as guards of the prison, who ultimately turned into "evil" people. They bullied the prisoners, made them strip naked, and called them names.
He also brought up Stanley Milgram's infamous experiment, in which there was a teacher and a learner. The learner was asked to remember and recite a series of letters, and if they were wrong, they would get electrocuted. (Unbeknownst to the teacher, the learners were actors and the shocks were staged.) The electrocution went up 15 volts at a time, with a threshold of 450 volts. 1,000 people were challenged to be the teacher, and only one person had to guts not to electrocute the learner.
This brought up Zimbardo's first point: "What you do, whether good or bad, has a ripple effect that people will notice." The opportunity to step in or say no to a situation will have a ripple effect that will affect your character and how people view you.
If you see someone lying on the ground in pain on a busy street, will you be a bystander or will you help that individual? If you help that individual, that person may view you as a hero. Another situation could be a negative one: when someone offers you an illegal drug. Zimbardo says this when it comes to doing something negative: "The first step is the one you have to challenge. If you don't want to do something, you have to be willing to stand up and say no." You can't slink back and follow the crowd; you will never get anywhere in life. You have to be willing to stand up for what you believe in and be able to say no when things are put in your path that you don't agree with.
"Don't get embarrassed by doing the right thing." Never be embarrassed about doing something that you think is right. There are always going to be people who don't agree with you, but you have to have the guts to stand up for yourself and your beliefs. If someone doesn't like it, then good for them. You aren't doing it for them. You are doing it for yourself.
Zimbardo hit on so many great points during his talk, but his main point throughout was to do the right thing. Be a genuine good person, don't let people push you around, and protect yourself against peer pressure. Don't be afraid to stand out, because to make it in this world, you can't just be a follower. You need to be a leader.