Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? The Stanford Prison Experiment

BBC this morning ran an article on the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment

The idea was simple - take a group of volunteers, tell half of them they are prisoners, the other half prison wardens, place them in a makeshift jail and watch what happens.
The Stanford prison experiment was supposed to last two weeks but was ended abruptly just six days later, after a string of mental breakdowns, an outbreak of sadism and a hunger strike.

The lesson learned was that ordinary decent people in different situations can and will react very differently from what they believe to be their ingrained moral values. 

Can the Holocaust happen again?  Yes. Can the mass murders of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot happen again?  Yes.  Can Abu Ghraib happen again. Yes.  Will the citizens of powerful countries continue to countenance and participate in horrific acts of violence against other countries which appear to "challenge to their authority"?  Yes.

Centuries of civilization, untold hours of religious activities and related social conditioning do not seem to change things that are hard wired into us.  A grim prognostication of our future.


  1. You certainly have a knack of getting people off to a "delightful" start on their days. People, and a Bear. Not what I needed today.

  2. I have thought at times that, if there was a choice, it might be great to have an option to join a different species. That said, there are many human acts that demonstrate compassion, kindness and respect.

  3. That is true, Barb. Very few ordinary people are completely evil or completely good. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (or if you remember "Mrs Hyde". We seem to react rather than act.


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