Zimbardo: Conformity to Social Roles Flashcards Preview

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What are social roles?

Social roles are the behaviour expected of an individual who occupies a social position. People conform to social roles assigned to them.


Aim of SPE

- Zimbardo (1973) was interested in finding out whether the brutality of American soldiers in the Vietnam war was due to the sadistic personalities of the guard or more to do with the prison conditions.
- He wanted to see whether people will conform to new social roles.


Procedure or SPE

- A mock prison was created in the basement of Stanford uni.
- 24 male students out of 75 were chosen after undergoing many psychological tests
- They were to be paid $15 ($100 now) a day
- The roles were randomly assigned, there were 10 prisoners and 11 guards
- Solitary confinement cell for prisoners who misbehaved.
- Prisoners were arrested at their own homes without knowing and taken to the station where they were fingerprinted and booked.
- Prisoners were given ID numbers and were referred to these instead of their names.
- Guards wore sunglasses to block any eye contact thus making them less emotional
- Supposed to last 2 weeks but ended in 6 days


Findings of SPE

- Guards adopted to their roles quickly and easily. They began harassing prisoners and behaved in a brutal manner.
- Prisoners were given pointless and boring tasks and were dehumanised.
- Prisoners did not form a relationship with each other and 'told tales' on other prisoners to guards.
- On the 2nd day they tried to rebel but were put down.
- One had to be released after 36 hours as he showed a high level of psychological distress.
- Only when a Stanford Ph.D pointed out how terrible the situation was, the experiment was stopped after 6 days.


Weakness: Unethical

- The study can be criticised on ethical grounds for not protecting the participants and not gaining full informed consent.
- Many prisoners were reported to suffer from extreme stress (some developed skin rashes and had breakdowns).
- Prisoners were arrested at their homes without giving consent for this to happen - lack of informed consent
- Many of the prisoners reported embarrassment that others witnessed the fake arrest
- There was confusion of the role of Zimbardo who also played the role of prison superintendent and became v involved and lost objectivity.


Weakness: Lack of research support

- SPE was replicated in 2006 in the UK on a BBC documentary. The finding were contradicted Zimbardo's.
- The prisoners did not conform to social roles and took control of the mock prison and harassed guards.
-Researchers used Social Identity Theory to explain the outcome. The prisoners developed a shared identity which caused the system to collapse.
- However in this study there were twice as many prisoners.


Strength: Control over variables

- One of the main strengths of this study is that he has a level of control over variables such as when selecting participants where only the most emotionally stable where chosen.
- Each participant were randomly allocated roles
- High control over variables increases internal validity.
- The prison was also pretty realistic.


Strength: Application to Abu Ghraib

- Zimbardo believed that the guards were only sadistic because they were conforming to social roles.
- This study is used to explain USA's Military's actions when they committed serious human rights violations against Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
- He believes that the guards were victims of situational factors that made the abuse more likely such as no accountability to higher authority were both present in SPE and Abu Ghraib.
- The abuse stemmed from misuse of power of being assigned the role of 'guard'.


Zimbardo's conclusion

- Zimbardo's conclusion from SPE was that people can become sadistic because they unknowingly conform to social roles that authority give.
- However other psychologist argue that the guards chose to behave in this way in Abu Ghraib as not all of them were sadistic and some were even good guards in SPE.