Saturday, July 29, 2006

The reason to have legal parameters of conduct with prisoners

“Torture” to the general public has been a tough ‘sell’. During June’s torture month, when I tried to approach people to promote awareness, I did not receive much of a response, other than perhaps a generalized ‘yea, those bushies think they can get away with anything’ kinda thing. Have you wondered like me, how another person can inflict intentional pain on another that goes above and beyond any situation of self-defense? Well, wonder no more. In fact, depending on how long you’ve graced the earth, you will undoubtedly remember two famous experiments, one from the ‘60s, and one from the early 70s. I am talking about the Stanly Milgram experiment and the Stanford prisoner experiment. The first one came out of the question after Eichman’s trial as to how it could be, that millions of people just obeyed orders without questioning as to their morality. The second one, which received funding from the US Navy was intended to look at existing conflicts in theirs and the Marine Corps’ prisons.

Stanley Milgram and Philip Zombardo were friends in highschool and apparently, had the same interests. Milgram conducted his experiment at Yale in 1961, and Zombardo conducted his 10 years later at Stanford University. This is their difference. As Milgram deceived his study objects by making them believe they were inflicting excruciating pain to another human being, which most of them continued after another ‘observer’, authority figure suggested they could since they would take responsibility for it, it is really the Stanford Prison experiment that is more troubling. In that experiment, 24 young guys were divvied up in half, 12 playing the prisoners, and 12 playing the wardens:
The experiment very quickly got out of hand. Prisoners suffered — and accepted — sadistic and humiliating treatment at the hands of the guards, and by the end many showed severe emotional disturbance.

After a relatively uneventful first day, a riot broke out on day two. Guards volunteered extra hours and worked together to break up the revolt, without supervision from the research staff. After this point, the guards tried to divide the prisoners and pit them against each other by setting up a "good" cell block and a "bad" cell block, to make the prisoners think that there were "informers" amidst their ranks. The efforts were largely effective, and there were no further large-scale rebellions. According to Zimbardo's former convict consultants, the tactic was similar to those used successfully in real US prisons.
The experiment's result has been argued to demonstrate the impressionability and obedience of people when provided with a legitimizing ideology and social and institutional support. It is also used to illustrate cognitive dissonance theory and the power of authority.
In psychology, the results of the experiment are said to support situational attributions of behavior rather than dispositional attribution. In other words, it seemed to entail that the situation caused the participants' behavior rather than anything inherent in their individual personalities. In this way it is compatible with the results of the also-famous (or infamous) Milgram experiment, in which ordinary people fulfilled orders to administer what appeared to be fatal electric shocks to a confederate of the experimenter.

The experiment drew its share of criticisms. In 2003, two British psychologists, Haslam and Reicher, conducted , what they called, a partial replication of the study with the help of the BBC which broadcasted it as a reality show. Their findings were a whole lot different then the original Stanford experiment, and naturally, received its share of critique.
When reading through all the experiments and their findings, I think we can deduce that we cannot leave anything to chance, and have the absolute need and moral obligation to provide strict parameters of conduct when dealing with prisoners. I touched upon the effect, not only of the person receiving the abuse, but the person administering it in a post I did in May called "When a little bit of Soul slips through your fingers". If after reading this you are still not convinced that torture is immoral, inhuman, and illegal, I suggest you find yourself a nice little study to participate in.

Check and compare;
Stanley Milgram Experiment
Stanford Prison Experiment
Haslam and Reicher ‘The Experiment’

Ingrid, from the Blogger Round Table


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