Psychology: The Stanford Prison Experiment was a Fraud

  • Thread starter jedishrfu
  • Start date
  • #1
11,520
5,071

Main Question or Discussion Point

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
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Ygggdrasil
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
2,999
2,461
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?
 
  • #3
11,520
5,071
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previously unpublished recordings of Philip Zimbardo, the Stanford psychologist who ran the study, and interviews with his participants, offers convincing evidence that the guards in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.”
 
  • #4
Ygggdrasil
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
2,999
2,461
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?
 
  • #5
129
28
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.
 
  • #6
11,520
5,071
Also some of the participants thought they should act the part and hammed it up for the investigators doing some improv.
 
  • #7
Ygggdrasil
Science Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2019 Award
2,999
2,461
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.
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)
 
  • #8
StoneTemplePython
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2019 Award
1,146
550
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.
 
  • #9
11,520
5,071
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.
 
  • #10
256bits
Gold Member
3,054
1,080
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."
 
  • #11
54
11
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.
 
  • #12
11,520
5,071
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
 

Related Threads on Psychology: The Stanford Prison Experiment was a Fraud

  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
4K
Replies
3
Views
2K
Replies
9
Views
1K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
18
Views
6K
  • Last Post
Replies
8
Views
4K
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
3K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
12
Views
4K
Top