Philip Zimbardo: A psychologists experience with deviance
Born in 1933 (3/23/33) and raised in a South Bronx (New York) ghetto, Philip Zimbardo became the first member of his family to attend college when he enrolled in Brooklyn College. Receiving his BA in 1954, he then moved to Yale University where he received his Masters in 1955 and his Ph.D. in 1958. He began teaching at Yale in 1958, and New York University in 1968 where he is still a professor of psychology. Zimbardo has won more than 24 awards, served on 20 boards and consultations, authored more than 20 psychology textbooks, written over 120 journal articles, and is the creator of a video teaching series called Discovering Psychology. He worked with Alan Funt to create a series of Candid Camera outtakes as a teaching tool for psychology professors, and is currently working with HBO on a movie about the Stanford prison experiment. There already exists a documentary of the experiment entitled Quiet Rage.
Although Zimbardo is not a criminologist by training, his wide range of research has yielded findings that can be applied to criminal behavior. He is most famous for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which is better appreciated by first understanding his model of Deindividuation as it relates to aggression.
In 1952 Festinger, Pepitone, and Newcombe found a positive correlation between a groups public hostility toward parents and the perceived attractiveness of the members of that group. In 1965 Singer, Brush, and Lublin found that "more groups given the Low Indentifiability manipulation used obscenity than those given the High Indentifiability treatment, and these groups were found to be more attractive (Zimbardo, 1969)." Ziller (1964) proposed that "individuation is desirable within a supportive social climate, but deindividuation is sought as a defense against a threatening environment (Zimbardo, 1969)." Based on this research, Zimbardo designed several experiments to develop a complete model of Deindividuation. His research sought to answer the question: Under what conditions and to what extent is human behavior controlled by environmental and physiological demand stimuli? According to Zimbardo (1969), "Volition, commitment, and responsibility fuse to form the core of one pole of the basic human choice; [so that] the act of freely making a commitment for which one assumes responsibility individuates the decision-maker." His experiments supported the hypothesis of deindividuation as a "process in which a series of antecedent social conditions lead to a change in perception of self and others, and thereby to a lowered threshold of normally restrained behavior (Zimbardo, 1969)." The release of this previously restrained behavior may be a violation of social norms, and therefore be labeled as deviance. Deindividuation is a three part process in which (1) input variables (antecedent conditions) lead to (2) inferred subjective changes (change in perspective) which results in (3) output behaviors (release of previously restrained behaviors). The variables in this process are presented in the following table (Zimbardo, 1969):
BResponsibility: shared, diffused, given up
CGroup size, activity
DAltered temporal perspective: present expanded, future and past distanced
FSensory input overload
GPhysical involvement in the act
HReliance upon noncognitive interactions and feedback
INovel or unstructured situation
JAltered states of consciousness, drugs, alcohol, sleep, etc.
Inferred Subjective Changes:
Lowered threshold for expressing inhibited behaviors
The model of deindividuation has been used to explain mob violence, riots, military massacres, police brutality, prison violence, and, with some modification of the model, spousal abuse.
Of his experiments to test this theory, on is fairly well known and one is widely known. We will first look at the lesser-known vandalism experiment. In 1969, Zimbardo placed one 1959 Oldsmobile auto on a street across from the Bronx campus of New York University (a ghetto area), and one on a street in Palo Alto, California near the Stanford University campus (a rather affluent area). "The license plates of both cars were removed and the hoods opened to provide the necessary releaser signals (Zimbardo, 1969)." Within three days, the car in the Bronx was completely stripped, the result of 23 separate incidents of vandalism. The car in Palo Alto sat unmolested for over a week. Zimbardo and two of his graduate students decided to provide an example by using a sledgehammer to bash the car. They found that after they had taken the first blow, it was extremely difficult to stop. Observers, who were shouting encouragement, finally joined in the vandalism until the car was completely wrecked.
This experiment is the basis of James Q. Wilsons Broken Windows Theory. "The thesis states that human behavior is strongly influenced by symbols of order and disorder. [In a neighborhood] one unrepaired broken window can signal that no one cares, [so that] citizens give in and give up (Wilson, P. L., 1997)." Therefore, the objective for preventing street crimes is to prevent the first window from getting broken, or prevent the first graffiti marks, or prevent the first drunkard from a public display. This has led to Neighborhood Watch programs and increased police foot patrols. These measures have not had a significant impact on crime, but they have succeeded in making neighborhood residents feel safer.
Stanford Prison Experiment
In this experiment, Zimbardo wished to discover what happens to "normal" people who are placed in an "evil" environment. "No specific hypotheses were advanced other that the general one that assignment to the treatment of guard or prisoner would result in significantly different reactions on behavioral measures of interaction, emotional measures of mood state and pathology, attitudes toward self, as well as other indices of coping and adaptation to this novel situation (Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973)." Zimbardo placed an ad in a local newspaper requesting male volunteers for a psychological study of "prison life." In return, the volunteers would be paid $15 a day for up to two weeks. Of the 75 respondents, "the 24 subjects who were judged to be most stable (physically and mentally), most mature, and least involved in anti-social behavior were selected to participate in the study (Haney, et al., 1973)." The respondents were judged on the basis of extensive psychological tests and questionnaires. Half of the subjects were randomly assigned to the role of "guard" and half to the role of "prisoner." Two prisoners and one guard were kept out on stand-by status, in case they were needed later, so that the experiment involved ten prisoners and eleven guards. Zimbardo took the role of superintendent of the prison.
The prison was built in a hall in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The prison consisted of three very small cells, an even smaller solitary confinement cell, and several rooms for the guards to change in or watch TV in. The prisoners remained in the prison 24 hours per day throughout the study. The guards were split into three eight-hour shifts and allowed to go about their lives as normal when not on duty. Guards were given no explicit instructions. They were told simply to "maintain the reasonable degree of order within the prison necessary for its effective functioning (Haney, et al. 1973)." They were, however, explicitly prohibited from using physical punishment or aggression against the prisoners.
Each group was issued identical uniforms to promote anonymity and group identity. Guards wore khaki uniforms, a whistle and wooden baton (symbols of power), and reflecting sunglasses which prohibited eye contact (anonymity). Prisoners wore plain, loose-fitting smocks/dresses with their ID number on front and back. They wore no underwear beneath these dresses (emasculation). They wore a lock and chain around one ankle as a reminder of their confinement, and a stocking cap on their heads to reduce individuality.
Prisoners were arrested at their homes, taken to the local police station (the real one!), and subjected to the standard procedures as they were "booked" on suspicion of burglary or armed robbery. At the prison, they were put through the routine stripping, delousing, uniform assignment, and mug shot.
The entire experiment was video- and audiotaped. During the study, every subject responded to various questionnaires and checklists.
The subjects quickly slipped into their roles of guard and prisoner. To deal with "disrespect" and "disobedient" prisoners, the guards used verbal abuse, extended the counts (a line-up to count prisoners and test their knowledge of prison rules and their ID numbers) to several hours of duration, arbitrarily administered punishment (push-ups and chores), and reduced privileges (showers, emptying waste buckets-toilets). "Prisoners immediately adopted a generally passive response mode while guards assumed a very active initiating role in all interactions (Haney, et al. 1973)."
Although the study was intended to last for two weeks, after 6 days it became clear that the experiment was out of control. Prisoners had tried to rebel and some had started breaking down emotionally. Five prisoners had to be released early due to severe psychological distress. Guards crushed any attempt show of rebellion with increased and arbitrary punishment. "In general, guards and prisoners showed a marked tendency toward increased negativity of affect and their overall outlook became increasingly negative. Despite the fact that guards and prisoners were essentially free to engage in any for of interaction . . . the characteristic nature of their encounters tended to be negative, hostile, affrontive and dehumanising (Haney, et al. 1973)." Zimbardo himself realized that he was caught up in it just as deeply as the subjects were. He later realized that he made a mistake in assuming the role of superintendent and experimenter.
After the study was terminated, Zimbardo held extensive debriefing sessions to allow the subjects to talk about the experiment as peers, instead of as guards and prisoners. All subjects were judged to be back to normal, based on psychological testing, shortly after the study ended. Zimbardo said, "because they all had normal foundations, they were able to bounce back quickly (Elghobashi, 1996)." So, what happened during the study to cause such "normal" people to behave in such an uncharacteristic manner? Referring back to the model of deindividuation, we can clearly see that most of the input variables were present in this study. Each group had a sense of anonymity induced by their uniforms. Responsibility for actions was shared and diffused at different times for each group. The prison definitely offered a novel situation to all subjects. Guards and prisoners had physical involvement in the acts of punishment and in all other daily routines. Prisoners were routinely sleep deprived. And guards may have had some sensory input overload induced by their first taste of power, while prisoners had it from the constant yelling and physical punishments.
Based on "Mischels social-learning analysis of the power of situational variables to shape complex social behavior (Haney, et al. 1973)," and Milgrams obedience experiments, Zimbardo concluded a situational attribution rather than a dispositional attribution. In other words, the force of the situation, not the individuals personality, was the cause of the observed behavior.
Obviously this type of experiment would never get approval from a review board today, just as Milgrams obedience study would not. Clearly, those types of experiments are unethical. However, they have provided a wealth of knowledge about human behavior. Commenting on his and Milgrams studies, Zimbardo (1974) noted the three major research themes in each:
Social Power and Mind Control
Zimbardo has taken this model one step further in his research on religious cults
and mind control. Referring to the core of human choice being volition, commitment, and responsibility, Zimbardo argues that mind control is similar in function to socialization, but with a different method. "When information is systematically hidden, withheld, or distorted, people may end up making biased decisions, even though they believe that they are freely choosing to act (Andersen & Zimbardo, 1984)." Therefore, deception is the key difference. Mind control is most effective when one with social power practices it. There are six types of social power:
Almost everyone we know has some type of social power. Police, bosses, parents, teachers, friends, etc. all have some influence on our actions and ideas. And it is through this social power that one can be led into cults. In his research and work with former cult members, Zimbardo has come up with some strategies for avoiding cult recruitment. Although some may find humor with the whole idea, his strategies can also be useful in everyday life for avoiding unwanted and potentially dangerous influence from others. Zimbardos (1974) strategies include:
Although these strategies are given to avoid cults, they can be very useful in teaching kids about gangs. (Arent they almost the same things?) And since much crime does start with gangs and peer pressure in general, maybe these strategies could help prevent criminal behavior from ever starting.
Even though crime is not Zimbardos life work, his research does give us insight on the situational factors that can provoke criminal behavior.
Andersen, S. M. & Zimbardo, P. G., (1984). On resisting social influence. Cultic Studies Journal, 1, (2), Fall/Winter, 196-219.
Colloff, P., (1997). James Q. Wilson (interview). OnPatrol [online]. Available: http://eagle.onr.com/onpatrol/wilsonint.html
Dutton, D., Fehr, B., & McEwen, H., (1982). Severe wife battering as deindividuated violence. Victimology, 7 (1-4), 13-23.
Elghobashi, N., (1996, May 14). Zimbardos prisonRenowned psychology professor calls 1970s prison experiment unethical. The Stanford Daily Online: News, 209. Available: http://daily.stanford.org/5-14-96/NEWzimbardo14.html
Haney, C., Banks, C., & Zimbardo, P., (1973). Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology & Penology, 1(1), 69-97.
Pawlak, K., (1997). Philip Zimbardo: Much yet to write. Text and Academic Authors [online]. Available: http://www.winonanet.com/taa/NOTABLE/zimbardo.html
Stanford Prison Experiment Slide Show [online]. Available: http://www.ed.ac.uk/~mlc/marble/psycho/prison/prison.htm
Wilson, J. Q., & Kelling, G. L., (1982,March). Broken windows: The police and neighborhood safety. The Atlantic Monthly [online]. Available: http://www3.theatlantic.com/election/connection/crime/windows.htm
Wilson, P. L., (1997, October). Targeting nuisance crime. San Diego Metropolitan Magazine [online]. Available: http://188.8.131.52/1997/oct/legally.htm
Zimbardo, P. G., (1969). The human choice: Individuation, reason, and order versus deindividuation, impulse, and chaos. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 17, 237-307.
Zimbardo, P. G., (1974). On "obedience to authority." American Psychologist, 29 (7), 566-567.
Zimbardo, P. G. [online homepage]. Available: http://zim.metanet.com/zimnet/