The Ethical Implications of Zimbardo’s Prison Simulation Experiment in Today’s Modern Context

Topic: HealthExercise
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Last updated: March 24, 2019

If a psychologist were to re-conduct an experiment involving a setup similar to Zimbardo’s famous 1960s prison-simulation experiment, he or she will no doubt encounter a lot of issues and be the culprit of many ethical violations. There is, first and foremost, the matter of employing state police to “arrest” the participants form their homes, search and handcuff them, and bring them via police car to the “prison”. Not only is this a direct violation of the participants’ rights to be informed of at least the most basic details regarding the experiment, but also subjects them to shame and public humiliation. One is led to ask, then: is such humiliation and de-moralizing necessary to maintain the integrity of the experiment?Another issue the setup will have to face is the matter of giving the participants the right to withdraw from the experiment any time they wish to do so.

Since the participants were not informed that the “arrest” is actually the prelude to the experiment, they believed that it was actual, and as such, they failed top invoke their right to withdraw from it. The participants, namely the prisoners, then had to contend with sub-human living conditions and maltreatment from the hands of the “prison guards”; this when they could have opted out had they been more informed of the nature of the exercise.Finally, the matter regarding the validity of the experimental setup will have to be confronted. The experimental setup, harsh as it was, did not accurately portray the nuances of prison life, where inmates are most often forced to commit graver acts like involuntary homosexuality, drug use and abuse, and ganging up on others, not because they derive pleasure out of these acts, but because this is the “culture” prevalent in prisons, and they have to do what they can to abide by it so that they may simply survive within it. 

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