Psychology: The Stanford Prison Experiment was a Fraud

In summary: The Twitter link is pretty good btw. To my mind its much worse than merely popular press. I don't consider introductory textbooks for college work in Psychology to be in the domain of "popular press" per se. The Medium article linked in by @jedishrfu 's original article takes a much more granular look at it. Here's a direct link. https://medium.com/s/trustissues/the-lifespan-of-a-lie-d869212b1f62
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In this VOX article, the author discusses several influential psychology experiments that were later found to be manipulated or outright fraudulent with some data purposely discarded and disclosures of prior experiments never mentioned in the conclusions.

In the Standford case, some of the students acted out their roles to please the investigators.

https://www.vox.com/2018/6/13/17449118/stanford-prison-experiment-fraud-psychology-replication
 
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jedishrfu said:
In the Standford case, some of the students acted out their roles to please the investigators.
Wasn't that the point of the experiment, to show that normal people would do evil if an authority figure told them to do it?
 
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Interviews with the students said they were coached to be mean. They didn’t become mean just because they were guards and had the authority. One student who cried out said they were just acting to please the investigators that they weren’t in any pain.

previously unpublished recordings of Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the study, and interviews with his participants, offers convincing evidence that the guards in the experiment were coached to be cruel. It also shows that the experiment’s most memorable moment — of a prisoner descending into a screaming fit, proclaiming, “I’m burning up inside!” — was the result of the prisoner acting. “I took it as a kind of an improv exercise,” one of the guards told reporter Ben Blum. “I believed that I was doing what the researchers wanted me to do.”
 
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I don't see how those statements contradict the interpretation that normal people are capable of performing evil if an authority figure tells them to do it.

Claims of fraud suggest a knowing intent to deceive. If the experiment was simply poorly designed or poorly executed or the results misinterpreted, these would not rise to the level of fraud. Was there evidence of the researchers willingly committing fraud?
 
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Ygggdrasil said:
I don't see how those statements contradict the interpretation that normal people are capable of performing evil if an authority figure tells them to do it.

Claims of fraud suggest a knowing intent to deceive. If the experiment was simply poorly designed or poorly executed or the results misinterpreted, these would not rise to the level of fraud. Was there evidence of the researchers willingly committing fraud?

I think the goal was to show that people with authority will in time begin to show "evil behavior", and because the researchers, or other people in charge of the research, taught the pretend guards to be evil, it's considered to be a fraud. Though the experiment was badly designed on top of that - playing a prison guard isn't the same as being one, or the same as being in a real authority position.
 
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Also some of the participants thought they should act the part and hammed it up for the investigators doing some improv.
 
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Tosh5457 said:
I think the goal was to show that people with authority will in time begin to show "evil behavior", and because the researchers, or other people in charge of the research, taught the pretend guards to be evil, it's considered to be a fraud. Though the experiment was badly designed on top of that - playing a prison guard isn't the same as being one, or the same as being in a real authority position.

jedishrfu said:
Also some of the participants thought they should act the part and hammed it up for the investigators doing some improv.

Nevermind, I had confused the Stanford Prison Experiment with the Milgram experiment.

Note that the Stanford Prison Experiment was never actually published in an academic journal. Rather, it's an example of the popular press disseminating a finding uncritically (see this discussion from Psychology Prof. David Amodio: https://twitter.com/david_m_amodio/status/1006958006599340042)
 
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Ygggdrasil said:
Nevermind, I had confused the Stanford Prison Experiment with the Milgram experiment.

Note that the Stanford Prison Experiment was never actually published in an academic journal. Rather, it's an example of the popular press disseminating a finding uncritically (see this discussion from Psychology Prof. David Amodio: https://twitter.com/david_m_amodio/status/1006958006599340042)

The Twitter link is pretty good btw. To my mind its much worse than merely popular press. I don't consider introductory textbooks for college work in Psychology to be in the domain of "popular press" per se. The Medium article linked in by @jedishrfu 's original article takes a much more granular look at it. Here's a direct link.

https://medium.com/s/trustissues/the-lifespan-of-a-lie-d869212b1f62

For example:

The Stanford prison experiment established Zimbardo as perhaps the most prominent living American psychologist. He became the primary author of one of the field’s most popular and long-running textbooks, Psychology: Core Concepts... In surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015, Richard Griggs and Jared Bartels each found that nearly every introductory psychology textbook on the market included Zimbardo’s narrative of the experiment, most uncritically.
The Medium article also details repeated fabrications and misleading statements by Zimbardo and even suggests criminal liability on his part (statute of limitations is up though). It's worth a close read.
 
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Yes, indeed, the Medium article is far better. It really describes how embattled Zimbardo has been and how his answers have changed over the years. He’s trying to save his legacy at all costs, knowing that it’s a fraud but trying anyway. His experiment is getting in the way of understanding the cruelty of people.

I just finished reading the book, People of the Lie where several cases of evil are described. M Scott Peck, the author and a psychiatrist argues that we need to look at evil as a medical illness and that people with this disease are the least likely to seek help. Instead they will inflict their evil on others using lies and deceptions in order to protect their own narcissistic secrets. In one case, a teenager was depressed and stole a car. As the author got into his case, he discovered that his brother had committed suicide with a .22 rifle. The parents wanted the doctor to help their son.

As the author tried to get the son to talk, he asked him about what he got for Xmas. The kid quietly said he told his parents he wanted a tennis racket but instead his parents gave him the very same rifle his brother had used. The author was flabbergasted by what the parents did. The parents didn’t feel it was wrong saying they were hardworking and busy people with no time to go shopping and that besides every kid his age should have a gun and so why not give him his brothers gun. The doctor told them the message they were sending to their son was that he should follow in his brothers footsteps and the parents refused to believe it.

Eventually the author was able to get the parents to send their son to another city to stay with his aunt. They balked at first saying the aunt, the mothers sister whom she didn’t like, would be no help and that the son would get better staying at home. The parents didn’t want to face the social embarrassment of having their son leave home or having their secrets get out.

The conclusion was that you will often find evil people around the mentally ill who are making them sick with their lies and deceptions and these same people refuse to believe that they are the cause of it. It’s like evil people minimize and ignore the evilness of their actions.

There were several other stories inthe book including an analysis of My Lai and the evil that occurred there. The Milgrom experiment was mentioned a bit as a explanation for why people do the evil they may do when stressed to the breaking point.

The final warning of the book is the very real danger of people using the books stories and conclusions in an evil way labeling folks they dislike as evil and thus causing further confusion and more evil. In addition, psychiatrists need to be careful not lose their way when dealing with evil patients and that they need to have the tools and proper understanding to heal the evil in people.
 
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So I guess the legal system has it right then.
Following orders from above is not really a defense of bad behavior.

If the experiments are truly as flawed as being said, regardless of the hamming it up or the coaching, final outcome was an active participation in a role.
As once was said, "the lady doth protest too much."
 
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There is a serious problem with psychological experiments such as this. They are trying to imply that your or I would act the same under the same conditions and that simply isn't so. Each person has his own set of morals, ethics and scruples. Each of us react differently and in most cases surprisingly different under the same conditions. Anyone attempting to hypothesize that all people will act the same will have to interpret his tests totally incorrectly to arrive at such results.

I would theorize that we have a serious problem today with social media that is training people to react alike in order to have "friends". This is very akin to those who would always bow to the king to avoid being whipped. These sorts of actions change people from individuals into components in a machine. I'm not sure how to overcome such training but the grandchildren aren't allowed to use social media because of this.
 
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To be clear, we are talking about one experiment that was never peer reviewed and that has been taken as dogma by the psychology community for a long time. The true danger is not peer reviewing experiments before we release the results to the public. Yes, we need to be careful in doing these kinds of experiments as they have serious consequences. It will take a few generations to erase the effects of this particular experiment in everyone's collective memory after we've removed it from its prominent place in our textbooks.

With respect to social media, we can't be "theorizing" here as we will risk making the same mistakes as the Stanford investigators and I think its time to close this thread before we get off on a tangent discussing these modern issues.

Thank you everyone for contributing here.

Jedi
 

1. Was the Stanford Prison Experiment a real experiment?

Yes, the Stanford Prison Experiment was a real experiment conducted by psychologist Philip Zimbardo in 1971 at Stanford University. It was designed to study the psychological effects of power and authority on individuals in a simulated prison environment.

2. Why is the Stanford Prison Experiment considered a fraud?

The Stanford Prison Experiment has been criticized for its lack of scientific rigor and ethical violations. The experiment had no control group and the participants were not randomly assigned to their roles. In addition, Zimbardo was heavily involved in the experiment, which could have influenced the results. Furthermore, the unethical treatment of the participants, including psychological and physical abuse, has raised questions about the validity of the study.

3. How does the Stanford Prison Experiment impact the field of psychology?

The Stanford Prison Experiment has had a significant impact on the field of psychology, particularly in the areas of ethics and research methodology. It has raised important questions about the use of deception in experiments and the responsibility of researchers to protect their participants from harm. It has also highlighted the importance of establishing clear guidelines for conducting ethical research.

4. Are there any valid findings from the Stanford Prison Experiment?

While the Stanford Prison Experiment has been heavily criticized, there are some valid findings that have emerged from the study. For example, the experiment showed the powerful influence of situational factors on human behavior, as the participants quickly adapted to their roles as guards and prisoners. It also highlighted the potential for abuse of power and the importance of ethical guidelines in research.

5. How has the Stanford Prison Experiment been replicated or challenged?

The Stanford Prison Experiment has been both replicated and challenged by other researchers. Some have attempted to replicate the study with more rigorous controls and ethical guidelines, while others have challenged the original findings and methodology. However, due to the controversial nature of the experiment, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions from these replications and challenges.

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