The Crime of Obedience and the Stanford Prison Experiment

Essay details

Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.

Download PDF

One of the biggest criticisms on obedience or conformity is the morality. It is believed that conformity or complete obedience may lead a human to commit a crime. Most of the great atrocities of the human history have been described as crimes of obedience. Human brains have not been programmed for conformity. It would have been quite strange if human beings were programmed for complete obedience. This view has gained immense popularity during the past sixty years. There have been a couple of experiments led by social psychologists in the 1960s and early 1970s which have more or less supported the view and shocked the world with their results. One of the two greatest experiments of all times is the Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. It has re-shaped popular understanding, such that everyone knows that people inevitably surrender to the requirements of authority.

Essay due? We'll write it for you!

Any subject

Min. 3-hour delivery

Pay if satisfied

Get your price

The crime of obedience, which is outlined as an act performed in response to orders from authority that’s thought of illicit or immoral by the larger community. The absolute submission or total committed by ordinary people and not by fanatic or bad people. In most cases the circumstances or the situations demanded an evil act from ordinary people which they committed without giving it a second though and later, regretted. A complete surrender may lead to numerous social evils including circumstances of violence, passive resistance and white collar crime. It is believed that great evils in human history have been.

Study shows that a normal human mind can be changed into a criminal mind as result of occurrence of different situations, and roles performed by him and others. More importantly, the tendency towards conformity is one’s disability to intelligently engage with the fact that what he is doing is right.

A study of classical human psychology suggests that cruelty does not result from total surrender to rules and laws, but it also involves joy of power enjoyed by the law enforcing authorities who are legally permitted to exercise brutality. State authorities in many cases, take the liberty of their rights to threaten people of the consequences of a certain act to achieve law and order. Philip Zimbardo in this book The Lucifer Effect explains it as Fear is the State’s psychological weapon of choice to frighten citizens into sacrificing their basic freedoms and rule-of-law protections in exchange for the security promised by their all-powerful government. Discussing the reasons that force a normal mind to commit a crime or go for some sort of evil at a smaller or larger scale, Zimbardo says Time and oppression are the fathers of rebellious invention.

According to considerable psychological research, people are most likely to perceive the authorities as legitimate when they are treated with procedural justice: when the authority acts respectfully and ethically e.g., sanctions are reasonable, when decisions are perceived as fair and transparent, when the individual has a voice in the decision making process, and when there is an ability to appeal decisions believed inaccurate. When people perceive the authorities as legitimate, people are more motivated to obey the law even when it is not convenient to do so. Similarly, people tend not to comply with, or even become defiant toward, authority figures perceived as procedurally unjust. Although these ideas have become most popularized within the field of courts, their development is deeply rooted in the prison literature that came before it.

Studies also reveal that in most cases, people who commit an evil, have regrets either immediately or at some stage of their lives. In some case it has also been noticed that even after completing their imprisonment, people still have the guilt of doing the evil which lasts with them for as long as they are. A Russian, journalist and philosopher, novelist, short story writer, essayist Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky says the man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.

Authority to exercise power or use force against enemies anyone else to maintain peace or law and order also leads to develop a criminal mind. This is one of the most dominate conclusions of the book. Adolf Eichmann, is well known figure of the history of world War II. He was a German Nazi lieutenant colonel and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. Briefly, he was responsible for mass murder of Jews across Israel. He was after the world war, he was capture by Israeli secret agency and eventually executed. What was truly unbelievable about him was not that he was unaware of the fact that he was responsible for mass murder of a huge number of Jews, but that he knew what he was doing and believed it to be right. One of his one regret, expressed prior to his trial, was that he had not killed more Jews. The only regret he had at the time of his execution was that he should have killed more Jews. He puts it as ro sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing. Philip Zimbardo has shared his opinion regarding Eichmann`s behavior in this book as The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.

The most dramatic instances of directed behavior change and “mind control” are not the consequence of exotic forms of influence, such as hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, or “brainwashing,” but rather the systematic manipulation of the most mundane aspects of human nature over time in confining settings.

One of the dominant conclusions of the Stanford prison experiment is that the pervasive yet subtle power of a host of situational variables can dominate an individual’s will to resist.

Scholars during the late 1800s had come to see prison as the quintessential government institution bellwether because of the breadth of government reach within them and the polarization of power between the keepers and the kept. It was for this reason that the interest in, and hope for, prison reform was so diffused through society that to identify proponents in political or regional labels belies the nature of the coalitions as well as motives. Much like slavery and suffrage, prison reform was a centerpiece of grand political and scholarly concern, permeating discourse and disciplines across the United States. Although the volume of writing, pamphlets, and speeches on prison reform never quite matched the outpouring of material on the pros and cons of slavery, it came remarkably close. It is for this reason that Morris and Rothman argued, those who wish to understand the special features of Jacksonian America must grapple with the origins and development of the prison. As the individuals forming the APA were both raised in and trained during the tail end of this period, it was within this cultural backdrop, and almost certainly with prisons on their minds, that a small group of scholars formed the APA.

might expect that prisons were on their minds, in part, because at least some of the founders of the APA were actively involved in the prison reform movement. For example, G. Stanley Hall, the first president of the APA, was also a commissioned member of the World Prison Congress, a body of scholars and practitioners with enormous reach and consequence at the time. Hall also wrote explicitly about applications of the new field of psychology to prisons and was likely the first to coin the phrase prison psychology. Likewise, it is no surprise that George Trumbull Ladd’s address as the second president of the APA culminated in the challenge, why should we not expect to see our science contributing to the improved conduct and character of men, in the school, in the court-room, the prison, and the asylum?. Future presidents of the APA continued and expanded on this explicit intersection of the two fields of study. For example, Hugo Minsterberg, APA president in 1898, is widely recognized for having written the first forensic psychology text and developing applications of psychology to questions of crime and justice. James Jackson Putnam, another prominent psychologist (neurologist) of the day, was involved with protests against inhumane conditions in asylums. Myriad other members from the early years of the APA likewise engaged in prison reform through scholarly discourse or serving as advisors or members of reform committees. And, of course, many of the actual psychologists of the day began working inside prisons themselves at the time the APA was formed.

The APA also played a key role in the evolution of American prisons indirectly. For example, prior to the APA, juvenile reformatories generally pursued correction via regimentation, physical discipline, and religious lectures. Ideas regarding education and youth development as articulated (and championed) by John Dewey, the eighth APA president, led to dramatic reform in this regard. As such, children were placed into settings that allowed some sense of normalcy, work, and individualized reform of the kind envisioned by the most famous progressive educator, John Dewey. Whether or not Dewey played an active role advocating for these specific changes, it was his scholarship and that of his contemporaries that fostered these developments.

It is also important to note that this was not a one-sided exchange between the institutions of prison and psychology. Early psychologists were influenced, and some deeply influenced, by experience with reformatories, prisons, and asylums. Many psychologists entered prisons in order to apply their craft and pursue their particular science following the formation of the APA. Many of these everyday psychologists entered prisons at the turn of the 19th century looking to gain professional status, and, in doing so, psychologists’ identity as clinicians and counselor gave them professional authority. It is likely that prisons themselves had substantive impact on theoretical and scientific developments produced by these practitioners.

Direct experience with prisons appears important for many of the luminaries of the field as well. G. Stanley Hall, for example, spent time during his studies in Germany gaining clinical experience in an asylum there. Then, in 1879, he toured asylums in Vienna and Italy. By all accounts, these experiences were deeply important to his scholarly development, as he expressed great shock at the conditions. Asylums then, as now, tended to serve similar populations to prisons, have similar structures and staff, and otherwise bear important resemblances to one another. Hall’s alarm at the conditions he found inside likely built an important foundation for, and explains, some of his later work on prison reform.

The Stanford Prison Experiment produced two interrelated paradigm shifts. First, it showed that the problem of abuse and violence between staff and prisoners is a function of structure. To use Zimbardo’s analogy, abuse of power is derived not only from bad apples but also from flawed barrels. Second, it revealed, powerfully, that prisoners and guards were not so very different from each other. Both the keepers and the kept responded to their environment, and they did so with far more capacity and range of moral motion than was thought possible. It was the watershed moment by which academics and policymakers came to realize the structure of prisons as well as the character of staff and inmates all operated in a synthetic and dynamic interplay. The paradigmatic shift took corrections from a compartmentalized conceptualization of component aspects of prisons e.g., guards, prisoners, administrators, facilities toward a view of prisons as comprising interconnected actors and situational prompts. This more nuanced understanding shows prison to be a place with more potential for behavioral change than previously presumed.

Get quality help now


Verified writer

Proficient in: Behavioral Psychology, Experimental Psychology

4.9 (2552 reviews)
“She was able to compose a 3-4 page essay in less than 24 hours and the results were fantastic !! Ty so much and I'll be using her again ”

+75 relevant experts are online

More Essay Samples on Topic

banner clock
Clock is ticking and inspiration doesn't come?
We`ll do boring work for you. No plagiarism guarantee. Deadline from 3 hours.

We use cookies to offer you the best experience. By continuing, we’ll assume you agree with our Cookies policy.