The Experiment – Critical Social Psychology (3/30)


In 2001 Professors Alex Haslam and Steve Reicher
set up another experimental situation involving men assigned to the roles of guards and prisoners. This experiment was filmed by the BBC. The first thing to say is probably that there
are actually a lot of similarities between our studies
in terms of the basic set up. So the participants were randomly assigned to condition, to
groups as prisoners or guards in a simulated prison environment. I think the first thing
to say is actually that aspects of that environment
and the general context of the study were different
in the sense that whereas in Zimbardo’s study he didn’t have much eth, or much or
any kind of ethical oversee, oversight of the project
as a whole, in our study we had an ethical committee on site that was monitoring all
aspects of the study and were explicitly there to
ensure that we didn’t have any of the kind of abuses of the form that were … were manifested
in Zimbardo’s study. We’re not talking about rights, are we? I don’t have any rights, I’m in prison. So I am … You do have rights, they’re on the board. I know they’re all written down, I know
… Reicher and Haslam were concerned that because
of the great ethical debate which took place after Zimbardo’s study, there was
a feeling that no-one should be allowed to do this sort
of study again. And indeed Zimbardo expressed that very view himself. What this meant
then was that something of a stop was placed on research into this form of extreme
behaviour, and Zimbardo’s study was really taken as the last word on this sort of behaviour. And this means of course that it’s very difficult to develop an academic debate about
the causes of extreme behaviour because there
is such a small amount of research on which to base that debate. In Zimbardo’s study he had taken on the
role as prison superintendent, and indeed as part of
that role he had said to his guards: we’re going to do this, that and the other to the
prisoners. We’re gonna take away their individuality,
we’re gonna treat them very badly and blah, blah,
blah. So he, if you like, invited them to engage in abuse. I think there are always issues about the
relationship between researchers and their participants. Researchers can be seen to be
very much in control of the situation. They have
the power to control through the manipulation of variables and the like, particularly in
an experimental context. However, I think the
climate has changed in the sense that I think now
that power is not that straight forward. The power relationship isn’t that clear cut
any more. And I think that the process becomes, because
of the ethical dilemmas that were raised by Zimbardo’s research, the relationships become
much more one of negotiation around power. But, nevertheless, as a researcher, you are
in a powerful position. What we are exploring is the way in which
people act within a system … And the system can’t be changed. The system is one in which we are interested
in the most effective way in which you, the guards, run the system and the system in which
there are differences between what people are doing. When people think about the Stanford Prison
experiment, if you look in textbooks, a lot of the
space is devoted to discussion of the ethical issues. Those are very important. But one of the things is that people had spent so much
time discussing ethics they’d never really said
well, it’s a bit like a Trojan horse, that they’d done that, they’d debated the ethics
and said oh yes, it was problematic, blah, blah, blah,
but they said: oh but, but it generated this really
important theoretical finding. Now I think the findings are important, but
in a way all this debate about ethics had not led to
the appropriate scrutiny of the theoretical conclusions of the research. And actually,
as I’ve said, I, we think that those conclusions were
simply wrong. Whereas in Zimbardo’s study the guards really
exerted their authority over the prisoners in all sorts of ways. In the later study it was actually the prisoners who bonded together as a group
and became quite aggressive and quite intimidating towards the guards. You’re a guard, you can’t be arguing with
us. It’s not an argument, I’m telling you,
please stop talking. This, this is my point, you can’t be there
telling me nothing. I can tell … No way, mate. Yeah. That’s the way it works. That’s
how the guard/prisoner relationship works. So what, so you can come in here … Try and see with wide lines … you can come here and tell me what to do? Look, you, you play the game with me, you
just walk off, and you don’t expect me to do fuck
all about it? Come on. Exactly, you’ve got the arsehole, haven’t
you? You’ve got the arsehole. …not being funny, but that is totally out
of order. You cannot be a guard in that uniform and
use foul language to us. The guards by contrast actually seem quite
uncomfortable with their role in the higher status
authority position, and seemed very reluctant to want to use the authority which they had. In fact, relations deteriorated between the groups
to the extent that the whole system itself in the
prison was called into question. I think you’ve just got to … I think we’ve
got to ask ourselves this one question, but don’t do
anything about it right now, but keep it at the back of your mind: does it have to be
like this? Does it have to be prisoners and guards with
rules? We live in a different climate where, um, issues around authority are not that clear cut. Our
relationship with authority isn’t as straight forward as perhaps it was in the 1970s. This isn’t a prison. It is. At the moment it’s not a prison. It is. At the moment … How do you know? I’m telling you. I’m telling you as a guard, I’ve been
here longer than you. How do you know? I’m telling you … I’m telling you exactly
what I know. You don’t … At them moment this isn’t a prison. It is. At the moment this is part of an experiment
which I’m participating in. Right. When I’ve got all the of rules, then I’ll
tell you whether or not it’s a prison. Do you
understand? Fine. He is good, he is good. And he’s on our
side, boys. You’ve got a live one here! Zimbardo’s study was conducted in America.
Reicher and Haslam’s study was conducted in Britain. So we have historical and cultural differences between these two studies. Since the 1970s there have been tremendous
cultural changes. For example, in attitudes towards authority, in notions of civic responsibility,
and in the way that reality is portrayed on TV. The study in itself was televised, and I think
that has to change the shape and the nature of,
of what was going on and how those people who are involved in it understood what was
happening to them. That certainly wasn’t what was happening with Zimbardo’s study.
We didn’t have reality television in that sense. If we think about the participants in these
studies, they were asked to carry out a rather strange procedure, they were asked to play
the role of prisoners and guards. Now how would
people make sense of that task? How would they know what it means to be a prisoner or
to be a guard? Well one way in which they would
make sense of the task is to draw on shared understandings in the culture about what prisoners
are like and what guards are like. And it’s very likely that there was some very important
differences in those cultural understandings between the two studies in terms of the history
and the surrounding culture. From Zimbardo’s position it was very much
that taking on the social roles, the social roles
themselves, were the determining factor if you like. Whereas I think in the Reicher/Haslam
research there was a much clearer example of agency, people being able to act in ways
to change their situation. There were some very clear individual differences
in both of these studies. In Zimbardo’s study we saw one particular guard who seemed
to be particularly aggressive in his behaviour towards the prisoners. I’ll ask you again – why should I give you
a pillow? Because I’m asking you for one, Mr Correctional
Officer. But you didn’t get around to working till
about ten minutes after everyone else did. … see in the future that you do work when
you’re told. Thank you, Mr Correctional Officer, Thank him real sweetly because I’m sure
that sounded very nasty. Thank you, Mr Correctional Officer. Say it again. Thank you Mr Correctional … Say bless you, Mr Correctional Officer. Bless you, Mr Correctional Officer. In Reicher and Haslam’s study we saw one
of the prisoners who seemed to emerge in a sort
of leadership role. … i think you should sit down with us as
well, cos you’re taking the head … Well I’m not taking the head, I’m just
gonna make a few rules that I think we all should abide
by, and you can tell me to fuck off afterwards, I don’t mind. So hear me out. Well you see, we’ve got to have democracy
here. I know that. But you can’t have democracy
unless you’ve got rules to follow. The only reason I say that is because we can
see how things kick off when the positions are
assumed at the beginning. The thing is, I’m not being undemocratic,
I’m just trying to set some basic rules for you
gentlemen to talk and argue between yourselves, so. Okay. So here we can see the intersection between
what we bring to our social roles, our background, our experiences, our personalities,
and the way in which those personal characteristics intersect with social roles.
We choose to play out our social roles in slightly
different ways according to what we bring to the role. Where Zimbardo was interested in showing how
groups create tyranny, okay, what we wanted to show too was that groups are also
a basis for resistance, which we think is an
important message associated with the social identity approach and which tends to have
been neglected in this view which has been handed down since Zimbardo, that groups are
bad. Actually we don’t think groups are bad, sometimes they are, but they’re not
always. And actually groups can be a very important source
for good because actually they provide a critical mechanism to not only create tyranny
but also importantly to resist tyranny. I’ll stay if it’s a commune, where we
have individual tasks and we’re all accountable to the
group. I’m gonna go if we get a really autocratic official with leaders and all that, I’m
gonna go. But there are gonna have to be rules. Cos
there’s always gonna be rules. Oh yeah. Oh there’s rules, and we can sit
down and we can discuss those rules. And if people come to the forefront when discussing
those rules, then fair enough. What we found was that actually, and where
the two … after the prisoners had overthrown the
guards’ regime and a commune had been set up, it was where that group failed, where
that group started to fail that people moved towards
tyranny. Tomorrow, at first dawn, we’re having a
military takeover of the regime that’s been put in
place yesterday. In fact the guards, their failure had already
led to them, if you like, moving to more kind of
authoritarian solutions. But in the study as a whole then, the shift towards tyranny,
the shift to authoritarianism was not a product of being
placed in given roles as members of groups that
had power, actually the guards never displayed that natural tendency. They were very
ambivalent about their role. Where tyranny emerged, it was a product of group and a
response to group failure, okay. So Zimbardo’s view is that groups lead naturally to abuse. We’re saying actually group failure is much more likely to create the conditions under
which people will turn to authoritarian solutions
and tyranny, or at least be willing to accept it or
tolerate it in particular kinds of ways. The experiment is about to end. Concerned at the turn of events, Alex Haslam
and Steve Reicher intervened and called the experiment to a halt, 36 hours before it was
due to end. The simple message groups are bad and that
we automatically abuse power is actually misleading in the extreme. And I think our
study demonstrates both the limitations of that at a
theoretical level, but I hope also opens up this debate for other researchers, for students,
so they can say well no, it’s not that straight
forward, it’s more complicated.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *