Way back in the day (ok, the 1960s & 70s) researchers in psychology were allowed to do some really crazy things with their subjects. Nowadays – and based on some of those past experiments – there are some pretty strict ethical rules for what you’re allowed to use ‘human participants’ for in experiments. I know that when I was in university, we had to participate in a few experiments as part of our coursework. For example, I remember doing one that involved putting my hand in cold water until it hurt – not too dramatic. Never figured out what that was measuring – but now I’m dying to know!
In some of my research, I’ve come across some really shocking, and super interesting experiments so I thought I’d share some of my favourites. For this post, I’ll share one that I think is particularly relevant to identity.
The stanford prison experiments.
This experiment, conducted in 1971 by Zimbardo (a Stanford Psychology professor) took undergraduate students, and assigned them to ‘roles’. These roles were that of Prisoner, and Prison Guard. And yes, the participants had to ‘live’ in a fake-prison, which was the basement of a building at Stanford. It’s shocking how these roles influence the total person – from behaviour, to self views and self-esteem, to their view of others. Just being assigned to the role of Prison Guard gave some individuals, after a very short time, an insane sense of power, while the Prisoners assumed a feeling of helplessness and victimization. It really goes to show how the roles we take on can – unconsciously even – greatly influence our sense of self, our perceptions of others, and the world around us. Power, sometimes given to us by a role (ie. boss in the organization), or even by “birthright” in some countries, can lead to some pretty nasty behaviors in some people. Here are the videos in series… from youtube.
Still gives me the shivers.