• Moliere
    1.7k
    In my book seeking knowledge is a good in and of itself, irregardless of whether it leads to progress and whether progress itself is good. It is not such good that can override any other consideration, but it is good..SophistiCat

    I think I view knowledge as a minor good -- so the difference between us is probably one of degree. Because I don't think I disagree with your point about a priori ethics or the temptation to find certainty in simple ethical formulations when our world is not amenable to such treatments, but requires judgement and experience. All of that made sense to me, including the point you make about how gaslighting can be viewed as acceptable in some cases -- how a counter-example can be read going both ways, either for or against counting something as good or for or against counting some principle of action as actually holding in all cases.

    In saying that seeking knowledge is a good in and of itself, though, you answered my question. It's because seeking knowledge is good that you consider it in looking at these various cases -- so the Milgram experiment or the SPE form one end of the spectrum and the Asch experiments another, in terms of what is acceptable. I'm willing to say that the Asch experiment seems more innocuous than setting up a prison and encouraging people to act out the roles they imagine they should act out.

    But I can't help but see how knowledge is constantly used for good and for ill. That just because we know more about the world that does not then mean we do good with said knowledge. Knowledge amplifies power, which in turn is only exercised in proportion to how good or bad we are, in a collective sense.

    I generally approve of science, although not being an expert, I cannot really gauge the quality of psychological theories and experiments qua science

    I am no such expert. And I don't mean to cast aspersions against the potency of psychology. History is potent as well. And knowing how people act in an era can be used to poor ends just as much as good ones. I'm just skeptical of its scientific veracity on the basis that humans change with knowledge of themselves, whereas chemicals have no knowledge of themselves and continue doing whatever it is they are doing.

    Perhaps it's just a matter of complexity. I sometimes think that there is a difference in kind, though, in which case we shouldn't expect the same sort of knowledge. But I suppose I go back and forth on this opinion, too. And I don't claim to have expert knowledge on the matter. It's just my judgment, given what I've learned so far.
  • Moliere
    1.7k
    I see two stories there. In one case we have the SPE demonstrating that people act in accord with circumstance, and then in his rebutall all he says is:

    the SPE’s conclusion of the value of understanding how systemic and situational forces can operate
    to influence individual behavior in negative or positive directions, often without our
    personal awareness. Its message is a cautionary tale of what might happen to any of us if
    we are not mindful of these external pressures on our actions.

    Concluding with

    For whatever
    its flaws, I continue to believe that the Stanford Prison Experiment has earned its
    deserved place as a valuable contributor to psychology’s understanding of human
    behavior and its complex dynamics. Multiple forces shape human behavior; they are
    internal and external, genetic and dispositional, historical and contemporary, cultural and personal.

    So the setup I get from the articles differs from what he's defending in his rebuttal. The original articles seem to be arguing against a stricter interpretation, but here Zimbardo is not defending such a notion.


    Honestly I haven't read the documentation or anything like that. I just remember the experiment being mentioned in passing in intro courses, and that's about it. I'd have to read more to form a strong opinion on what it all means or says. But that's worth noting that Zimbardo, here, doesn't seem to be making as strong of a claim as the original article is attacking (unless I'm just misreading him too)
  • KevinMcCabe
    5
    The Stanford Prison Experiment is a shocking read about research ethics and human ethics in general. I read the online version by the main researcher. The theme of the book was not really the language of a psychologist rather quiet exaggerated which makes me doubtful about the results. Regardless the experiment had a great impact on me and many others when it comes to human behaviour and ethics. Suggested read!
  • TheMadFool
    4.3k
    The experiment reveals the nature of the relationship between power and the powerless. The experiment deserves attention for breaching ethical codes but the results themselves aren't surprising. We see such dynamics being played out in the playgrounds of schools, at home, in the office, everywhere. The "experiment" merely confirms people's long held intuitions on human nature. Personally, I feel great disappointment at what the experiment exposes about us - how easily people, including myself of course, can go from friendly next-door neighbor to cruel dominator.

    The question that actually needs answering is: Which role do you prefer? The cruel and insensitive guard or the docile cowering prisoner?

    Whatever the answer is we would find it difficult to determine if it's genuine or just a tall tale.
  • Tzeentch
    458
    What these attacks seem to miss, is the fact that these experiments sought to better understand events that had already happened.

    They didn't seek to prove that regular people can exhibit extreme behavior under certain circumstances. This already seemed evident.

    The critics seem to take issue with the aforementioned theory on the basis that the experiment was a sham or not carried out properly, but the theory doesn't require these experiments at all. The historical list of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to other people is long and well-documented.
  • SophistiCat
    909
    What these attacks seem to miss, is the fact that these experiments sought to better understand events that had already happened.Tzeentch

    No, this point wasn't missed either in the cited articles or in the discussion in this thread.
  • Tzeentch
    458
    Then its implications were missed. The article seems to take issue with the "Zimbardo-narrative," which I understand to be the narrative that claims ordinary people can do bad things under the right circumstances. This narrative doesn't require Zimbardo as proof, since history is filled to the brim with examples that support it.
  • SophistiCat
    909
    No, you misunderstood whatever snippet that you have read. You need to read the article in order to be able to comment on it.
  • Tzeentch
    458


    "The appeal of the Stanford prison experiment seems to go deeper than its scientific validity, perhaps because it tells us a story about ourselves that we desperately want to believe: that we, as individuals, cannot really be held accountable for the sometimes reprehensible things we do. As troubling as it might seem to accept Zimbardo’s fallen vision of human nature, it is also profoundly liberating. It means we’re off the hook. Our actions are determined by circumstance. Our fallibility is situational. Just as the Gospel promised to absolve us of our sins if we would only believe, the SPE offered a form of redemption tailor-made for a scientific era, and we embraced it."

    This is what the writer, perhaps among other things, takes issue with.
  • boethius
    318
    This is what the writer, perhaps among other things, takes issue with.Tzeentch

    I was just copying a passage to make the same point, though I chose a different one:

    The Stanford prison experiment established Zimbardo as perhaps the most prominent living American psychologist. He became the primary author of one of the field’s most popular and long-running textbooks, Psychology: Core Concepts, and the host of a 1990 PBS video series, Discovering Psychology, which gained wide usage in high school and college classes and is still screened today. Both featured the Stanford prison experiment. And its popularity wasn’t limited to the United States. Polish philosopher Zygmunt Bauman’s citation of the experiment in Modernity and the Holocaust in 1989 typified a growing tradition in Eastern Europe and Germany of looking to the Stanford prison experiment for help explaining the Holocaust. In his influential 1992 book, Ordinary Men, historian Christopher Browning relied on both the Stanford prison experiment and the Milgram experiment, another social psychology touchstone, in arguing that Nazi mass killings were in part the result of situational factors (other scholars argued that subscribers to a national ideology that identified Jews as enemies of the state could hardly be described as “ordinary men”). 2001, the same year Zimbardo was elected president of the American Psychological Association, saw the release of a German-language film, Das Experiment, that was based on the SPE but amped the violence up to Nazi-worthy levels, with guards not only abusing prisoners but murdering them and each other. When prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib came to light in 2004, Zimbardo again made the rounds on the talk show circuit, arguing that the abuse had been the result not of a few “bad apple” soldiers but of a “bad barrel” and providing expert testimony on behalf of Ivan “Chip” Frederick, the staff sergeant supervising the military policemen who committed the abuses. With the resurgence of interest in the experiment, Zimbardo published The Lucifer Effect in 2007, offering more detail about it than ever before, though framed in such a way as to avoid calling his basic findings into question. The book became a national bestseller.

    All the while, however, experts had been casting doubt on Zimbardo’s work.
    The article in question

    The issue is that Zimbardo, and others sympathetic to his cause, uses the experiment to make claims much stronger than:

    Ordinary people can do bad things under the right circumstances.Tzeentch

    If "this narrative doesn't require Zimbardo as proof, since history is filled to the brim with examples that support it" what function does it play in Zimbardo's text books, and other other text books and papers that reference the experiment? Why not just reference those historical events if nothing more is being said than "bad things have happened in history".

    The functional utility of Zimbardo's narrative is to present human nature as so fickle, so dependent on circumstance, that we have barely any moral agency at all ... well, at least when working for the state, to both coddle and excuse the sadist, which there seems to be good taped indication that Zimbardo has an unhealthy obsession about. One might "well, it's just to show it's the boss of the sadists fault", but isn't the boss just as fickle and prone to as easily excused sadistic inclinations, moreso that they can do so from a desk (like Zimbardo), and the bosses boss and the whole population!
  • Tzeentch
    458
    The functional utility of Zimbardo's narrative is to present human nature as so fickle, so dependent on circumstance, that we have barely any moral agency at all ... well, at least when working for the state, to both coddle and excuse the sadist, which there seems to be good taped indication that Zimbardo has an unhealthy obsession about.boethius

    I don't know about the latter part of this sentence, but as for the part I underlined;

    History provides that image of human nature. Zimbardo tried to demonstrate it through his experiment. If his experiment is based on lies, it was a bad demonstration, but it doesn't change the image history provides.

    The issue is that Zimbardo, and others sympathetic to his cause, uses the experiment to make claims much stronger than:

    "Ordinary people can do bad things under the right circumstances."
    boethius

    Well, that is clearly an issue if they cannot support their claims.

    My gripe is specifically with the sentiment that the theory of man's fickle morality relies on Zimbardo.
  • boethius
    318
    History provides that image of human nature.Tzeentch

    This is debatable.

    Nazi's were a thing, yes, but so was resistance to Nazism, both within and abroad. We find terrible acts and good acts throughout history (assuming a more or less 'normal' standard of morality that allows conclusions about good and bad; a standard that, whatever it is, should be noted, cannot be derived from scientific experiment).

    Your premise is your conclusion, and therefore you don't need Zimbardo; you don't need reflection at all with arguments structured in this way.

    But imagine someone who is not sure what history informs us about human nature, perhaps an experiment can resolve or provide insight into the issue.

    So ...

    Zimbardo tried to demonstrate it through his experiment.Tzeentch

    Which, if it's already proven by history a competent critical thinker would say "this provides strictly no new information, it was purely a superfluous demonstration of what we already know". (Zimbardo does not say he has tried to create no new knowledge and that no argument actually would ever rely on the experiment he has designed.)

    And, if there is nothing to falsify because there is nothing in doubt and nothing up for debate, and so the scientist has no doubts about the results and our state of knowledge is unchanged whether the experiment is performed or not; a competent scientist would say "this is a great demonstration of incompetent and/or dishonest science". (Zimbardo does not say he has designed an experiment with strictly zero falsification stakes.)

    If his experiment is based on lies, it was a bad demonstration, but it doesn't change the image history provides.Tzeentch

    It does, Zimbardo himself commented on historical events based on conclusions drawn from his experiment, as have others; i.e. Zimbardo himself shows us how to change our image of history based on his experiment.

    My gripe is specifically with the sentiment that the theory of man's fickle morality relies on Zimbardo.Tzeentch

    It relies on Zimbardo if you're relying on Zimbardo which Zimbardo clearly did, as well as others. This is the subject matter here.

    You seem to be arguing with no one.
  • Tzeentch
    458
    This is debatable.boethius

    What is?

    The premise that human behavior relies a lot more on circumstance than it does on personal morality?

    I don't think that's up for debate. I think that is common knowledge.

    Though, that doesn't mean personal morality never plays a role, or that humans are fundamentally incapable of moral behavior.

    Which, if it's already proven by history a competent critical thinker would say "this provides strictly no new information, it was purely a superfluous demonstration of what we already know".boethius

    Clearly a demonstration could provide further insight into the phenomenon, but I am not up to speed with Zimbardo's intentions nor am I trying to defend him.

    You seem to be arguing with no one.boethius

    Hello no one.

    But I guess I'm done here, then.
  • boethius
    318
    Clearly a demonstration could provide further insight into the phenomenon, but I am not up to speed with Zimbardo's intentions nor am I trying to defend him.Tzeentch

    This thread is about Zimbardo, no one here is arguing that if Zimbardo's experiment was flawed that is evidence for the opposite conclusion. So you're arguing with no one here, but you seem very argumentative, hence why it's useful to clarify that you're arguing with no one.

    If you want to argue for the conclusion absent anything Zimbardo has said or done, then open a new thread and make your case.

    If you just want to mention what you believe, then speak for yourself.

    If you:

    don't think that's up for debate. I think that is common knowledge.Tzeentch

    Again, then who are you debating with anyways?

    It seems you're just providing us your internal monologue about this and that, vaguely associated with the subject of discussion. If you preface that with "here's my internal monologue, it's not up for debate, make of if what you want", then fairs fair, I have nothing to say to that.
  • Shamshir
    856
    The premise that human behavior relies a lot more on circumstance than it does on personal morality?Tzeentch
    Isn't personal morality a circumstance, and the most determining circumstance at that?
  • Tzeentch
    458
    This isn't entirely fair, since the articles that were linked question the premise I have shared. But if the wish is to debate on Zimbardo's scientific rigour or lack thereof, then that's fair enough.

    Isn't personal morality a circumstance, and the most determining circumstance at that?Shamshir

    I suppose I could've specified external circumstance, but I thought this was self-evident in the context of the discussion.
  • boethius
    318
    This isn't entirely fair, since the articles that were linked question the premise I have shared. But if the wish is to debate on Zimbardo's scientific rigour or lack thereof, then that's fair enough.Tzeentch

    But that's entirely reasonable, it follows from rejecting the validity of Zimbardo's experiment (a proposed positive determination of the "moral fickleness" conclusion), that room is created to question that conclusion. If people were relying on Zimbardo, directly or indirectly, to arrive at that conclusion, then they should definitely question the conclusion if Zimbardo experiment turned out to be lies, as you mention that maybe it is.

    Perhaps there are good reasons elsewhere, as you are proposing, to stick with the conclusion, and perhaps not.

    It's certainly worthy of debate, (if we ignore for a moment your "it's not up for debate" position) then you are more than welcome to say "I don't care about Zimbardo, but I want to discuss the underlying contentions as-they-are" and propose to continue that discussion in this thread or another.

    However, if you misconstrue criticism of a position as commitment to the opposite position, then that leads to confusion.
  • Shamshir
    856
    I suppose I could've specified external circumstance, but I thought this was self-evident in the context of the discussion.Tzeentch
    Just checking.

    On that note, I don't see the aforementioned premise as common knowledge. Rather, I find the idea that the interpretation of external circumstance, based on personal values, is the driving force of human behaviour.

    Hence why two different people may exhibit different behaviour in the same circumstance i.e fight or flee.
  • Tzeentch
    458
    I find the idea that the interpretation of external circumstance, based on personal values, is the driving force of human behaviour.Shamshir

    I'm not sure why you used the word "values" here, which I find more related to personal preference and not to morality.
  • Shamshir
    856
    If morality isn't based on the value of things - as right and/or wrong, then what is it based on?

    Also, while morality itself may not be an object of preference, personal morality certainly is. Or am I mistaken?
  • Tzeentch
    458
    I made this more complicated than it needed to be by inserting the word "personal" infront of morality. I'll try to state my thoughts clearly;

    In situations such as Zimbardo's experiment (under the assumption it was carried out legitimately), external pressure often prevails over a person's ideas of morality. The reason I don't like the connotation "preference" in the context of morality is that it implies the person decides what is good and evil, which foregoes the purpose of morality, in my view.
  • Shamshir
    856
    The reason I don't like the connotation "preference" in the context of morality is that it implies the person decides what is good and evil, which foregoes the purpose of morality, in my view.Tzeentch
    I quite agree and find that the word moral is often used in place of the word pleasing, while rather it is more akin to beneficial. Bitter medicine for instance isn't all too pleasing, but is beneficial in that it is medicine - and as it heals and/or prevents ills, is thus moral.

    In situations such as Zimbardo's experiment (under the assumption it was carried out legitimately), external pressure often prevails over a person's ideas of morality.Tzeentch
    Perhaps it does and that would suggest that a person's character is often very flimsy, and associates with pleasure more often than with responsibility.
    But I do think that, having said that, the final call rests with the person's character which gives it at least a little more weight over external pressure.

    So, perhaps we're in agreement, if I've at last read through everything correctly?
  • Tzeentch
    458
    So, perhaps we're in agreement, if I've at last read through everything correctly?Shamshir

    Yes we are!
  • ssu
    1.7k
    I think that Zimbardo's and Milgram's experiments just hit a nerve that people wanted to hear. These experiments are so well known because they simply fit the discourse and mainstream academic views. What people just love are simple behavioural answers to complex phenomenon like systematic cruelty, war and genocide. The idea that 'anybody can be made to be a torturer' is the basic extrapolation that people take from these ugly experiments and people are quite willing to believe them.

    That Zimbardo hadn't visited a jail before and wanted for the guards to be cruel is quite in line with all this. This is actually quite evident even from Zimbardo's own rebuttal, which I find quite amazing:

    Central in the training of guards was to exercise their power over their prisoners so that they would readily obey orders, prevent rebellion and eliminate escape attempts. My instructions to the guards were that they should maintain law and order, and also command the respect of prisoners.
    In the power dynamic between them, guards should have most, while prisoners had little
    or none.

    From this it's totally obvious what Zimbardo's agenda is, especially when he is the one writing this.

    Notice from the above what Zimbardo defines to be central in the training. Who on Earth trains guards "to exercise their power over prisoners" as the way to get them to obey orders? Ever heard of "carrot and stick"? No? If a prisoner wants to read a book, then what actual prison guard wouldn't give this kind of easy carrot? A prisoner reading a book simply isn't trouble. Not giving something as normal as that will just only increase the possibility of rebellion and escape. But of course this kind of logic isn't what Zimbardo had in mind and his 'rebuttal' exposes quite well his thinking. Because what is obvious (from the rebuttal also) is that Zimbardo was especially pleased with that his experiment in anarchy gave rise to violence, which then he can take as an example.

    Yet that totally untrained people without supervision take their behaviour from Hollywood films and behave unprofessionally is quite understandble. And also that they want to do their part: by Zimbardo's own words the 'John Wayne' had said: "He said he wanted to make the experiment work, so stepped up to lead his night shift to be really tough on the prisoners."

    Similar conclusions can be easily drawn from for instance wars: when you have two well trained armies that adhere to the Geneva conventions, then the war fighting can indeed happen without war crimes. The best example of this is the Falklands war. On the other hand, when the combatants are totally untrained and part of a mob and not of a military, then the violence can be just dreadful and worse than a Tarantino film.
  • Isaac
    1.7k
    I think that Zimbardo's and Milgram's experiments just hit a nerve that people wanted to hear. These experiments are so well known because they simply fit the discourse and mainstream academic views. What people just love are simple behavioural answers to complex phenomenon like systematic cruelty, war and genocide.ssu

    I don't think this can be the case. Experiments like Milgram's and Zimbardo's are undoubtedly over simplifications, but that is necessary in any descriptive modelling. We have to simplify complex interactions to produce models. Zimbardo was brash and too much of a showman for my liking, but Milgram never claimed his experiments summed up the entirety of human response to authority, only that they showed a surprising aspect of it. And it was surprising. He conducted a preliminary survey of opinions and most thought less than 1% would go to the maximum voltage. So whatever you may conclude about the validity of the experiment (and it certainly had its flaws) fitting in to a pre-existing narrative is certainly not something there's any evidence for as far as I can tell.
  • ssu
    1.7k
    Experiments like Milgram's and Zimbardo's are undoubtedly over simplifications, but that is necessary in any descriptive modelling. We have to simplify complex interactions to produce models.Isaac
    Yet oversimplification is a problem especially if we just want to get a simple model and then assume it can tell more that it does. One can obviously argue that the behaviour of a group is the aggregate of the actions/intensions of it's members, but that doesn't mean that from the behaviour of an individual we can say everything about the behaviour of a group. And once that group grows in size, has various instititions and so on, the complexity grows to such levels that the individual / small group experiment has little use.

    Zimbardo was brash and too much of a showman for my likingIsaac
    Well, thanks for StreetlightX for giving that response of Zimbardo. From that I took away that the guy is a self-centered asshole.

    Anyway, I always have had this feeling that if time travelers from 200 or 300 years in the future would come to the present, they would look especially at psychology and psychologists/psychiatrists to be as clueless and inherently harmful as Medieval doctors, who cured people by draining blood from them. We know a lot about diseases caused by bacteria, yet in psychology (or sociology) we don't know so much.
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