MSL NOTES ON READING #5 - INTERPERSONAL DYNAMICS IN A SIMULATED PRISON
ProfessorMalcolm Mac Kinnon
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February 4, 2011
MAPPING THE SOCIAL LANDSCAPE READINGS
Reading #5 – Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison By: Craig Haney,
W. Curtis Banks, and Philip G. Zimbardo
-The social institution of prison has continued to fail.
Substantial evidence show that prisons really neither “rehabilitates” nor acts as a
deterrent to future crime.
They are additionally an economic failure.
American tax payers alone must provide an expenditure for “corrections” of
1.5 billion dollars annually.
They have failed on humanitarian grounds as well.
Mass media is increasingly filled with accounts of atrocities committed daily,
man on man, in reaction to the penal system or in the name of it.
It is central to a prevalent non-conscious ideology: the state of the social institution of
prison is due to the “nature” of the people who administrate it, or the “nature” of the
people who populate it, or both.
This hypothesis has been embraced by the proponents of the prison status quo
(blaming violence on the criminal disposition of prisoners), as well as by its critics
(attributing brutality of guards and staff to their sadistic structures).
It was difficult to make a critical evaluation of this hypothesis because naturalistic
observations confound the acute effects of the environment with the chronic
characteristics of the inmate and guard populations.
To partial out the situational effects of the prison environment, a research strategy in
which a “new” prison is constructed and prison-like situations are created where the
guards and inmates were initially comparable and characterized as being
The next step is to observe the patterns of behaviour which resulted and to record
cognitive, emotional, and attitudinal reactions that emerged.
-Recidivism is persistently relapsing into crime.
-An experimental simulation of a prison environment was created to study the effects of
playing the role of “guard” or “prisoner”.
-The roles were picked randomly and they were enacted over two weeks using information
from former inmates, correctional personnel, and texts.
Only pages 1-2 are available for preview. Some parts have been intentionally blurred.
-There were 22 participants out of 75 respondents who answered a newspaper ad asking for
male volunteers to participate in the psychological study of “prison life”.
The payment was $15 per day.
-Respondents had to fill out an extensive questionnaire concerning their:
Physical and mental health history
Attitudinal propensity with respect to any possible sources of psychopathology
(including their involvements in crime)
-Each respondent was interviewed by one of two experimenters.
-The most stable subjects were selected.
They were normal, healthy males.
They were all strangers to one another.
Half were assigned the role of “guard” and the other half “prisoners”.
-All participants agreed to the terms and signed contracts guaranteeing a minimally adequate
diet, clothing, housing, and medical care, as well as financial re-numeration, in return for
their stated “intention” of serving in the assigned role for the duration of the study.
-They were told to expect
to be under surveillance.
-They were to expect some
of their basic civil rights
to be suspended during
-They weren’t given any
for the prisoner role.
-They remained in mock
prisons 24 hours a day for
the entire study.
-They attended an orientation meeting on the day prior to the
induction of the prisoners.
-They were told vaguely about the experimental simulation.
-Their assigned task was to “maintain the reasonable degree
of order within the prison necessary for its effective
They were not instructed specifically about how to go
about performing this duty. They were only given a few
explicit instructions and were left to “fill in” their own
definitions of the role.
-The one exception was they were forbidden from using any
physical forms of punishment.
-The guards worked on three-man, eight-hour shifts,
remaining in the prison environment only during their work
Physical Aspect of the Prison:
-The prison was built in the basement in the psychology building at Stanford University.
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