De-Conditioning: Strength Of A Stereotype

Although the ethics and validity of the Stanford Prison Experiment (1973) has been called into question, it still remains a milestone in psychology. Led by Phillip Zimbardo, the experiment took place in a basement with volunteer’s taking on the role of guard, or prisoner. Originally it was to run for two weeks, ending in six days when things got out of hand and damaging. Prisoners were abused by guards, who took pleasure in degrading them.

“Within hours of beginning the experiment some guards began to harass prisoners. At 2:30 A.M. prisoners were awakened from sleep by blasting whistles for the first of many “counts.”

In response the prisoners fought back.

“Because the first day passed without incident, the guards were surprised and totally unprepared for the rebellion which broke out on the morning of the second day.”

The show went on, with guards ending the riots, becoming more aggressive as consequence.

“The guards retaliated by using a fire extinguisher which shot a stream of skin-chilling carbon dioxide, and they forced the prisoners away from the doors. Next, the guards broke into each cell, stripped the prisoners naked and took the beds out.”

Things continued to snowball. Confronted about why he allowed it, Zimbardo confessed his state of mind was that of a jail superintendent, not a psychologist. The study concluded:

According to Zimbardo and his colleagues, the Stanford Prison Experiment revealed how people will readily conform to the social roles they are expected to play, especially if the roles are as strongly stereotyped as those of the prison guards. Because the guards were placed in a position of authority, they began to act in ways they would not usually behave in their normal lives.

What does it say when one puts on that blue uniform? When the circumstance is a black individual, stereotyped to be a thug and a menace to society?

They forget to be civil servants meant to protect. Instead they end up seeing through the lens of authority, behaving as they’ve been taught, reflecting society unto itself:

Believing they are saving the world from a savage, who is really a captive. In reality they are the one’s to fear, their cruelty, their savagery, their white imagination’s spinning everything in their favor; by any means necessary. They created the caricature, then built a system that forces colored people to play their assigned roles. The strength of a stereotype is life, or death. When’s the last time you assumed something about someone based on race? How often do you stereotype others? Photo: Mental Knots