ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Psychology of Life in Prison

Updated on November 14, 2013
Source

Overview

Understanding the psychology of prison life has been the focus of study for many researchers. Philip Zimbardo, however, conducted a study that broke barriers with his theory on behavioral tendencies. He believed that significant situations in our lives can change our usual behavioral tendencies and cause us to behave in ways that contrast our normal behavior. Zimbardo’s aim was to determine whether the environment we are in determines (or changes) our behavior. Therefore, his main research question in studying prison life was if prison changed people, or if the people in the prison system were already “different” before they went in (Hock, 2009, p. 287).

Zimbardo wanted to answer this question by creating a “research prison” with participants acting as either prisoners or guards. To test this, Zimbardo used the prison setting, a situation that is known to have a powerful influence over individuals' minds and behavior. He did so in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford University, using college students who were randomly assigned to be a guard or prisoner. In doing this, he thought that randomly placing the students as either a guard or prisoner would create different reactions among the students and influence their behavior during interactions and their overall attitudes (Hock, 2009, p. 288).

Study Objectives

Zimbardo’s goal was to simulate a true prison experience, even though the participants were aware of what they would be going through and that during the study, their personal privacy was likely to be violated. Zimbardo’s main task in this was to analyze the behavior of the participants and how their behaviors change in a certain environment. He and his associates wanted to see if the roles and situations the students were placed in would have a powerful enough influence over their behavioral tendencies and personal characteristics (Hock, 2009, p. 289).

The ‘prisoners’ were to be treated as actual prisoners, and the idea was to make them feel like prisoners, so Zimbardo could accurately measure the change in their attitudes. Contrary to the role of the prisoners was the role of the guards, who were able to live their lives outside the research prison in between their shifts. Their only task was to maintain order and control in the prison and “keep the prisoners in line” (Hock, 2009, p. 291).

Source

Results

As Zimbardo predicted, the real personalities of the participants were overpowered by the roles they took on. The participants essentially turned the study into real life, and it drastically changed their normal behavioral tendencies. As Zimbardo noted, the guards mentally abused the prisoners, and the prisoners developed much hatred for the guards, and became “dehumanized robots” (Hock, 2009, p. 291). Instead of opting out of the study (which was always an option for the participants), the prisoners just asked to be put on parole or released. When they would get denied by the guards, however, they just listened and stayed in their cells (Hock, 2009, p. 291). Five of the prisoners had to be relieved from the study after several days because they became extremely emotionally unstable, and stopped eating. The guards essentially became bullies, who found joy in ridiculing the prisoners. What they refused to remember, or acknowledge, was that this was just a study. However, the study turned into real life for the participants, and caused major psychological changes in their behavior.

Dr. Philip Zimbardo
Dr. Philip Zimbardo | Source

Zimbardo's Legacy

Zimbardo’s study has had a huge effect on the social and political issues of prison reform in the United States. The study opened a new door to seeing how peoples’ attitudes and behaviors change in a powerful or stressful situation, such as being in prison. Zimbardo wanted to apply the findings of his study to the evolution of our prison system since his study ended. He concluded that prisons still fail to regulate the treatment of prisoners. They are still being isolated and punished to an unnecessary degree. More importantly, Zimbardo found that prison conditions have gotten much worse, and he thinks this is due to the politicization of the prison system (Hock, 2009, p. 293).

Image of guard and prisoners in Zimbardo's study at Stanford.
Image of guard and prisoners in Zimbardo's study at Stanford. | Source

Conclusion

It is remarkable how much an individual can change if they are in a certain situation. It is even more remarkable that a simple study can alter the behavioral tendencies of its participants, and turn into more than just a study. Zimbardo’s study and the participants included did more than what was expected; their personalities changed completely with the situation they were put in. The prisoners became obedient, depressed, and hopeless, even when they could have gotten out of the study at any time. And the guards somehow took on some form of dictatorship with the role they were being asked to play. This holds with real-life situations, especially in our prisons today. One’s behavior definitely changes once they are entered into the prison system, or even just a stressful situation that is out of their element.

In conclusion, Zimbardo’s research has shown us a great amount of knowledge on how people’s behavior changes due to the environment we are in.

Did you like this Hub?

See results

© 2013 Ameera Nassir

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • srsddn profile image

      srsddn 

      4 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

      crreamm, Quite interesting! I liked the roles the subjects played and the concomitant changes in their behaviour. Must be a difficult study. The results of the study must be used by the authorities concerned to improve the conditions in the prisons. I wonder how Philip Zimbardo accounted for the changes that usually take place in the behaviour of a prisoner from the day of a crime/offence to the day he/she reaches prisoner after undergoing the process of trial in a court which usually is a long period in many countries. Anyway, it is an interesting subject and I congratulate you on your achievement of publishing many Editor's Choice Hubs. Have a nice Sunday!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)