The Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted in 1971 by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, placed college students in make-believe roles of prisoner and guard, beginning with realistic arrests carried out by the local police.  The experiment went on for several days, during which the guards became increasingly abusive, and the prisoners increasing submissive, in a manner reminiscent of humiliation-based “reality TV” shows — only more extreme.  The experiment was terminated early, after 6 days, for this reason.

Dilemma 3 in 101 Ethical Dilemmas by Martin Cohen.

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About John Hooker

T. Jerome Holleran Professor of Business Ethics and Social Responsibility Tepper School of Business Carnegie Mellon University

One response »

  1. John Hooker says:

    The experiment has an obvious resemblance to the famous Milgram experiments conducted a decade earlier, which led to similar results. Cohen’s book describes the experiment without posing any particular ethical dilemma. His subsequent discussion seems to ask whether we all have a diabolical streak that is triggered in the right circumstances.

    This is a psychological question, not an ethical one, and so I won’t attempt to address it here. However, I think that psychological experiments of this sort deserve at least as much ethical scruntiny as the behavior they unleash.

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