The Stanford County Jail/Prison “experiment”

I heard about it a few years ago. I think YouTube recommended it to me. Hmm.

If you haven’t heard about it, it was a “psychology experiment” of power and the abuse of it, given the opportunity to do so and get away with it, run by a Psychiatrist in the 70’s. It was supposed to be a ‘simulation’ that would last 2 weeks, enabling the “Doctor” and his team of researchers to study human behaviour in extreme conditions.

A bunch of Uni students were chosen to participate.

Half the group of 20 students were assigned “Prison guards” and given smart uniforms, dark sunglasses and batons to give each “guard” a sense of anonymity and authority. The other 10 were made prisoners. They were stripped, sprayed, jailed and each given a “dress” with a 3 or 4 digit number on it. They were only addressed by their number, no longer by their names. This was to strip them of autonomy and individuality.

After only 6 days the experiment was shut down because it quickly got out of hand. Guards were taking their power over others to cruel and almost evil measures and the prisoners were in extremely high states of emotional, physical, and psychological distress.

A film was released about it on Netflix which I had to walk away from several times this evening, it was so hard to watch.

My heart can’t bear to see others suffer.

My soul can’t operate when someone is in distress because every part of me wants to cuddle and rescue them.

What scares me is that apparently the guards and prisoners were randomly selected. They weren’t inherently “bad” or “good” people, they were all just ‘average students’ – generally pretty good people, all of them.

In the movie, the Psychiatrist leading the entire experiment says something chilling. He says the only difference between the guard physically and emotionally abusing a highly distressed prisoner and the poor prisoner “was just the flip of a coin”. Had the coin flipped the other way, the roles would have been reversed. Would the other guy have been kinder…or worse?

I believe I’m a genuinely kind, caring, warm, sweet, generous person. I believe I would do the right thing, especially when it comes to how I treat others. It’s something I’m secretly quite proud of…that deep down, I would always do what is right.

But would I?

What kind of person would I be if I was put in a position of power? It was bone chilling to see how quickly the guards descended into outright cruelty when it came to the prisoners. It was scary to see how fast the element of power changed ordinary Uni students into cruel bullies that literally put the wellbeing of others in great jeopardy.

I know I’ve been in the “prisoner” role for much of my life; bossed around, told what to do, bowing and scraping, keeping quiet and following someone else’s rules. I wonder if I would have the courage to speak up for myself in a situation like that. I wonder if I could say “No, this isn’t right” or if I could demand my rights when my life is in danger or if I’d allow the situation to overcome me and inevitably kill me.

I would hope I have the strength and integrity to stand up for others. I know I have in the past. I view myself as a nothing…but when it comes to someone else – especially someone who means something to me – then I will take you down in order to protect and defend the people I love. I would hope even an official uniform wouldn’t stop me fighting to defend the innocent. The bullied. The voiceless and defenceless.

In the experiment, it was a Lord of the Flies situation but in a prison setting. Instead of sticking to rules, guards quickly broke them and began assaulting prisoners. This was encouraged by the Doctors/leaders of the experiment. Instead of a clear cut experiment, YouTube showed prisoners suffering terribly…and that suffering began on day one.

Human depravity overcame common decency in a matter of hours. Is that always going to be the case when people are given free reign?

Father God, I pray that no matter what the circumstance, I will always choose kindness.  I pray I will choose to be Holy in everything I do. I pray I will have integrity and honour in everything I am in charge of. Please give me wisdom and help me to do whatever Jesus would do – especially when it comes to how I treat others. Amen.

9 responses to “The Stanford County Jail/Prison “experiment””

  1. Amen πŸ™πŸΎ. Quite thought provoking. ❀️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe that like you I would always choose kindness. I think it’s why I gravitate towards your kind soul. Very interesting observations indeed about how power corrupts. I always think that everyone needs to experience a bit of humbling failure or their heads get too big.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it is scary how little it takes for it all to go to very dark places when people are involved. I pray we ALL choose kindness no matter which end of the gun barrel we’re at. I love your heart so much, Shanti. I wasn’t able to comment on your latest blogs but I love the orchids, the photos of the pristine shopping malls and omg that letter from so long ago when your Uncle was on a cruise ship brought tears to my eyes. I love letters and for him to have kept it for so long…wow. Amazing. What a beautiful way to preserve your family history.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Awww thank you so much Janet. I place a lot of importance in what you think of my blog as you’re an astounding writer who always teaches me something and touches my soul.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think the exact same about your sage advice and wisdom, Shanti. Keep writing because what you have to say and share about your world is so valuable xx

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The human condition is a very long trail. But suddenly towards the end something happened, I saw purpose…real loving purpose. Among all the incredibly painful things there is something teaching us…and of all things…to love. But not how to love everything out there, it is slowly guiding us to love ourselves. In our childhood we are unintentionally taught fear, simply because our parents haven’t resolved their fears and can do no other than to pass on ‘only what they know’. And as we go through life we keep bumping into those painful bits, and slowly begin to understand them, within ourselves. We can never truly appreciate happiness unless we experience sadness too…and on through all those emotions. And it is in those painful places that we are given the gift of empathy, compassion and love to others…because we have been there. This journey is truly giving us a gift beyond price. And in doing the conditional love, the love we hold at bay because we feel doubt and or fear towards ourselves and feel that we don’t deserve it in some way, in experiencing it all we will one day see why we were so afraid, understand it, and let it all go. And right there in that moment of understanding in our hearts is a love beyond words, an unconditional love, one no longer bound by those things we hold…and you will break down in tears, big, big happy tears because of all that you will have now found…is that purpose. And that love we all go looking for ‘out there’ all our lives, it has been gently, quietly waiting for us to look within, understand our fear, and be set free. Yes, it is hard and long, but trust me, not a soul I have asked would change one tiny step or action on that path, simply because each and every step has a purpose…and a love that goes with it all. Ours β€οΈπŸ™πŸ½

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    1. This is such a well thought out, beautiful response, Mark. You are so right – in the midst of sadness and suffering there are opportunities for LOVE and for me, that’s God shining His light in our dark places. I’m so blessed you took time to write such a long comment filled with compassion and wisdom ❀️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Janet. God gave me a little journey to face myself, as we all do, and see inside us and see that purpose and know that as crazy as this world seems there is indeed something very profound and beautiful waiting for us to find. Have a great day dear lady, may the sun shine, the world go round, but most of all, you find that love that is you πŸ˜€β€οΈπŸ™πŸ½

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Be a better person and like. Nice thoughts πŸ˜ŠπŸ‘πŸ»

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