Monitor on Psychology - October 2011 - (Page 11)
Zimbardo re-examines his landmark Stanford prison study
conditions or show courage in a life-or-death situation or other Thinking back, Philip G. Zimbardo, PhD, believes his historic crisis. Stanford Prison Experiment was born out of his tendency to So, after years of being known as “Dr. Evil,” he said he has multitask. completely shifted his focus to promoting good. “I have to now “The way I dealt with having to teach so much was a kind be the ‘Good Witch of the West,’ or at least the West Coast, of intellectual cheating,” said Zimbardo. “I had to use teaching change my identity and promote heroism,” Zimbardo said. ideas to generate research ideas and then use research to feed As such, Zimbardo has launched the Heroic Imagination back into teaching.” Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes building The idea for the experiment came to Zimbardo after he asked his Stanford psychology students to examine what happens when someone goes to prison for the first time. As part of their independent study, his students came up with the idea to set up a mock prison among themselves in their dorm one weekend. That test, Zimbardo later learned, was rife with tension. “When they presented the project in class, one kid turned to another and said, ‘You can’t be my friend anymore because you did such terrible things when you were a guard,’” Zimbardo remembered. “It was very clear that there was something powerful there, and I felt we should follow it up in a more systematic way.” Zimbardo’s own follow-up experiment, which took place from Aug. 14–19, 1971 in the basement of Stanford University’s Jordan Hall, demonstrated how extreme situations can provoke uncharacteristic behavior. Since then, Zimbardo has been asked to serve as From ‘Dr. Evil’ to the ‘Good Witch of the West’: Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo shared how the an expert witness in similar, real-life Stanford Prison Experiment led to his current work on heroism. situations, including the Abu Ghraib military abuse scandal. character and courage. The project includes an educational Zimbardo, who participated in a question-and-answer program, through which he and other psychologists train session moderated by psychology historian Wade Pickren, youth leaders and middle and high school staff to teach PhD, at APA’s Annual Convention, went on to explain how students how they can resist bullying and peer pressure and prisons became a springboard for his pioneering research on create positive change in their communities. shyness. “I thought, ‘In what situations do people give up their freedom voluntarily, freedom of speech and of association — —J. CHAMBERLIN isn’t that shy people?’” he said. “A shy person is his own prison and guard.” To watch Zimbardo talk more about his Heroic His latest research on heroism is also a byproduct the Imagination Project, click here. Stanford prison experiment. When writing his book “The Lucifer Effect” (2008) about how good people can turn evil, Zimbardo discovered there was a dearth of substantive research on why some people are able to resist negative influences in bad
OCTOBER 2011 • MONITOR ON PSYCHOLOGY 11
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