Colton Potter Bioethics December Movie Project Stanford Prison Experiment

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My movie was the Stanford prison experiment, which is based on a true story. It is about a psychology professor at Stanford University, Dr. Zimbardo conducts an investigational experiment dealing with recent brutality cases reported in the prison system. The experiment took place during summer break of 1971. It included 24 college students that applied and interviewed for the position in which they were also making $15 per day. They were screened for any psychological issues as well as any outstanding medical issues. After 24 students were picked, they were split into two groups prisoners and guards. They were split randomly by the flip of a coin whether they were to be a guard or prisoner. Zimbardo modeled the basement of one of the buildings after a prison in which he converted the offices of the basement into jail cells.

The 'prisoners" were arrested from their homes with no warning and taken to a local police station. There they were blindfolded and driven to the psychology center at Stanford University, this was to ensure a more life-like situation for the prisoners. Upon arrival to the university they were stripped naked and deloused and removed of all personal items. They were issued a smock or dress with a number on it and that is what they were referred to and what they were to refer to each other as. They were treated as if they were in an actual prison, and the guards are told they can do anything as long as they do not lay their hands on the prisoners. Among the first couple of days there was a prisoner that claimed that he needed to see a doctor and he went before a parole board made up Zimbardo and his colleagues, he was granted parole and was able to leave. The prisoners began to rebel against the guards and the guards became very sadistic and controlling confirming Zimbardo's hypothesis. Which was that the recent brutality cases were of the sadistic behaviors of the guards and not the prison environment. One thing that he found was that the environment influences the behavior of the guards. The experiment was set to last for fourteen days and the behaviors of the guards got so bad that the experiment was called off after only six days. On the sixth day one of the guards, known as John Wayne, forced one of the participants to say something that he did not agree with. John was trying to get the prisoner to say that he was, 'a bastard", and the prisoner refused to use profane language. After which the guard got him to say it he then forced them to pair up and perform sexual acts with each other.

I found a couple of ethical issues within this movie, one is using students of the same classes and that are the same age in the experiment. I also found that Zimbardo began to bend the rules just to see how far it would go. At one point a prisoner got in the face of one of the guards and the guard struck him with his nightstick. Zimbardo's team asked if they should intervene and he replied, 'We are not going to mess with anything let's see how far this will go." There was an obvious bias to his experiment, to the point of his team members did not agree with what was happening and left the experiment. This film was well put together and factually sound in how the experiment took place. They showed actual video of the experiment and they way that it compared was impeccable in how they portrayed it. It does make you think was there something that they could have done to help with the treatment of the prisoners. They could have put limits to how far the guards could have taken it with the prisoners.

I think that Zimbardo's hypothesis was right and wrong at the same time. I think that the brutality is from the sadistic behaviors of the guards. But I think that the behavior of the guards is influenced by the environment of the prison. If the prisoners show any form of resistance towards the guards then there is an increase in the brutal behavior from the guards towards the prisoners. It shows clearly in the movie that one of the prisoners was showing weakness and the guards still picked at him and then when he broke and rebelled it got worse for all the prisoners. The prisoner that broke, got the others to rebel with him. When one of the cells barricaded the door so that the guards could not get in, the guards use a fire extinguisher on the prisoners and charges in their cell and takes all of their bedding as well as the other cells. The sadistic behavior is fed by the rebellion of the prisoners. I find that the theory of utilitarianism applies here, when they took the bedding from all the cells there was one cell that helped the guards remove their bedding and move it to the hall. Because of this, they are rewarded by being given a nice meal while the other prisoners watch.

I think that there could have been a more ethical way of conducing the experiment, not letting it go to the point of sodomy of the prisoners by force of the other prisoners. If there were limits put on the guards like there is in the prison system, then I think it would have made the experiment more valid. I think that there were some flaws in the experiment such as allowing them to file for parole as well as not ever giving them a sentence hearing. If Zimbardo wanted to create an actual prison experience, then he should have had them booked and a sentencing hearing before having them sent to Stanford. He could have had them sentenced and then moved to Stanford to make it more believable. The fact that he did not do this there was one prisoner that told the others, this is not a prison, this is an experiment in the basement of the psychology building. If they were able to have a rec time and not in what some would consider maximum security, where they were unable to see the light of day and had no sense of time then I think we could have seen the prisoners turn on the other inmates. One thing that I agree with in this experiment is there was a change in guards every twelve hours. There was a night shift and a day shift. This kept is as close to actual shift change as possible in an actual prison. Another thing that allowed the authenticity of the experiment is the fact that one of the members of his team was a former inmate of a state prison and he was able to give his account to allow the guards to be as real as possible.

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Colton Potter Bioethics December Movie Project Stanford Prison Experiment. (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved December 4, 2023 , from

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