The Psychology of Authority and Abuse of Power
The Stanford Prison Experiment – A Deep Insight on the Dark Side of Human Nature
The Psychology of Authority and the Abuse of Power
You may already know about the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 and they made a movie on it back in 2015 that showed how the experiment was conducted. It was supposed to a be a 2 week experiment but was terminated in only 6 days. You’d wonder why? They simulated the prison in the basement of the University creating a real prison type environment with prisoner beds, duties, tasks and rules exactly like a real prison. The objective of the experiment was to understand what measures can be taken to improve the conditions of the prisons in the country (that’s my understanding). They did not have clocks or access to sunlight during the experiment which means the prisoners had no idea of what day it was, what time it was, how many hours have gone by, nothing. And oh, by the way, the prisoners and guards were all students at the Stanford University.
The guards were told to create discipline in their prison. They did not have much accountability, and it became their prison. The guards were given uniforms, sunglasses and baton for imposing Authority. The prisoners were stripped naked and changed into their prison uniforms and were each given a number. They called them by their numbers, not their names. They were stripped away from their individuality.
What happened at the prison is something you can Google yourself and find out, let me write down a few observations that may shock the crap out of you –
The guards and prisoners took their uniforms as their new identities and the guards starting enjoying their authority. In the absence of law enforcement, people will turn to animals. And when abusive people have power, what they can do is turn something illegal and pass it along as “Law” and not one person will question authority. They will do as they are told. We see this on a daily basis. Look inside your organization too. In a subtle way, because there is law enforcement and HR policies and strict guidelines to follow, people are hesitant to cross a certain boundary. In the absence of these laws and policies, you never know what might happen. Take a good look around you, in general, and tell me if the person sitting next to you in a train, bus, a passenger in a car next to you at the traffic light is really a nice person or is he/she just obeying the law and staying within a certain boundary and obeying Authority and their Authority dictates and/or validates their behavior.
It is often said that the real measure of an individual is what they do when they have access to Power. A Serial Killer and a Doctor both have much similar skill sets, but different objectives. I think you know what I’m saying. When you don’t have access to Violence, people resort to Humiliation. It happens (or at least used to happen) at IIT, India in the name of “ragging”, what it really was? Was “bullying”, “humiliation”, and during the 90s, it was all over the news that many college kids committed suicide after “ragging”. Researchers could also travel to countries where the law enforcement is not taken that seriously (I don’t mean to deride any country in any which way, this is just the truth, handle it) and conduct their research in environments where simulation is perhaps not even needed.
Love and Gratitude,
PS: Some of the things the guards and prisoners talked about face to face after the experiment was over.
Guard: “It’s easy for you to say, Oh I wouldn’t have acted that way. But you don’t know. That’s the truth. And I know now what I’m capable of and it does hurt:.
Prisoner: “You give them the uniform and the glasses and the nightstick and they simply can’t be the same person as if they were in street clothes. Meanwhile I’m just a number in a dress. I wasn’t just a prisoner, I was “their” prisoner.”
Prisoner: “I felt like I was losing my identity. It’s still a prison to me that is run by psychologists instead of the State”.
Guard: “I wanted to see what kind of Verbal Abuse people would take until they lash back. But nobody questioned my Authority and it really shocked me”.
I write from my heart.
I'd write even if no one was reading.
"Offending people since 1977"
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