Interesting Articles about the human brain

Photo courtesy Philip G. ZimbardoPhoto courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo

In 1963 1971, a study about prisons was funded by the U.S. Navy to try to better understand problems in the Marine Corps.’ prisons. The study was run by a group of researchers at Stanford, led by psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo. The idea was to create a controlled environment in the Stanford halls to simulate a prison. There would be participants recruited to play both the prisoners and the guards, and the experiment would last for two weeks.

No one thought the experiment would have any big problems – the participants were just playing a short game of prison. Yet in less than a week the prisoners were becoming psychologically disturbed, and the guards disturbingly sadistic. There were riots, hunger strikes, and abusive treatment – all in the mock-up jail cells created in the halls of the Stanford psychology department. The study had to be canceled early, leaving one critical question – how could a fake prison situation become real so quickly?

The problem couldn’t have been the characteristics of the participants. The original twenty-four volunteers were picked for their stability of mind, out of a group of seventy. Also, the pick between the prisoners and prison guards was made at random via coin tosses. Thus, there was no bias when it came to the players.

Photo courtesy Philip G. ZimbardoZimbardo did attempt to make the prison more real with some degrading tactics to simulate a real prison. Each prisoner was given a number that was their identification for duration of the experiment. As for clothing, a prisoner only got one ill-fitted Muslin smock, an uncomfortable pair of rubber thong sandals, and a nylon pantyhose cap (which was put over the head, as though they had a shaved their hair off). If that wasn’t bad enough, each had a chain on their foot, its constant clinking specifically to remind them that they were not free.

Photo courtesy Philip G. Zimbardo

The guards were made to be quite intimidating – they went to a military surplus to get their khaki outfits and wooden batons. Also, they each wore large, reflective glasses. This was not in order to look cool, but to prevent eye contact with the prisoners.

On the chosen start date, the prisoners were arrested for armed robbery and taken from their homes by the actual Palo Alto police, who cooperated with the project. Their arrival at the pseudo-jail was as nasty as in any prison – they were stripped naked and deloused, then given their uniforms and numbers. And so the simulation began.

The first day of the experiment was relatively peaceful. Then, on the second day, the prisoners got feisty and attempted a rebellion. They took off their stocking caps and numbers, as well as barricading their cells with their beds. The guards took this threat seriously, calling in reinforcements to solve the problem. In the end, they used fire extinguishers to blast the prisoners away from the doors, then rushed in, stripped them naked, and sent the ringleaders into solitary confinement.

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This is a fun one:

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