Texts for Torturers
PHILIP ZIMBARDO (2007), The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil
In August 1971, the Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his team of investigators selected twenty-four young men to participate in their study of the psychology of imprisonment. The men, only a few of whom were students, had answered an ad placed in both the student newspaper and the local town daily that offered subjects fifteen dollars per day for two weeks to participate in a study of “prison life.” The successful applicants were randomly assigned to the roles of prisoner and guard, fifty-fifty. Prisoners were to stay in the prison for the entire two weeks; guards served in eight-hour shifts, three groups per day. Thus began the now famous Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE).
The prison was built in university facilities, after local police refused to allow the use of the real town jail. They did, however, agree to “arrest” the future prisoners, coming unannounced to their homes in a way that enhanced the verisimilitude of the situation. Because Zimbardo, who had been teaching a course on Psychology of Imprisonment, initially conceived the study as an investigation of the isolation and loss of individuality that occur during imprisonment, he gave the prisoners no detailed instructions, although he initially told them that they, like the guards, were free to leave the experiment at any time (forfeiting all the cash). He also assured them that there would be no physical abuse. (This assurance proved false, since guards were permitted from the beginning to deprive prisoners of sleep, a very damaging form of physical abuse.) Guards, by contrast, initially seen as “ensemble players” whose role was to help Zimbardo study the prisoners, were given a detailed “orientation.” Zimbardo told them that in order for the study of prisoner psychology to be successful, they had to play their roles with vigour. He urged them to create an experience that included frustration, fear, and loss of control. “In general, what all this should create in them is a sense of powerlessness. We have total power in the situation.