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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsTime to Dismiss the Stanford Prison Experiment? – Inside Higher Ed (Greg Toppo | June 2018)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Time to Dismiss the Stanford Prison Experiment? – Inside Higher Ed (Greg Toppo | June 2018)

 


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The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment has long been considered a window into the horrors ordinary people can inflict on one another, but new interviews with participants and reconsideration of archival records shed more light on the findings

The Stanford Prison Experiment is often (too often) used to justify why research ethics review arrangements exist. The use of scandal egregious ethical lapses are fundamentally flawed – because they implicitly reinforce the message that the role of review is to protect participants from dangers a reckless researcher might fail to recognise. This discussion piece suggests there is another reason not to use it: The research design might have been seriously flawed and the conclusions it reached possibly false.

Since its inception nearly 47 years ago, the Stanford Prison Experiment has become a kind of grim psychological touchstone, an object lesson in humans’ hidden ability to act sadistically — or submissively — as social conditions permit.
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Along with Yale University researcher Stanley Milgram’s 1960s experiments on human cruelty, the August 1971 experiment has captured Americans’ imaginations for nearly half a century. It is a long-standing staple of psychology and social science textbooks and has been invoked to explain horrors as wide-ranging as the Holocaust, the My Lai massacre and the Abu Ghraib prisoner-torture scandal.
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But new interviews with participants and reconsideration of archival records are shedding new light on the experiment, questioning a few of its bedrock assumptions about human behavior.

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