Carnahan & McFarland (2007) PSPB

Carnahan& - Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment Could Participant Self-Selection Have Led to the Cruelty Thomas Carnahan Sam

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603 Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: Could Participant Self-Selection Have Led to the Cruelty? Thomas Carnahan Sam McFarland Western Kentucky University the context of socially approved roles, rules, and norms, a legitimizing ideology, and institutional support. This situationist interpretation of the SPE’s results, that the power of the situation overwhelms the moral restraints of good people, has rarely been questioned. However, in his analysis of 20th-century genocides and mass killings, Staub (1989) reported that young men with cruelty-related dispositions often self-select to join groups such as the Nazi SS. He then suggested that “self-selection may have played a role in the prison study I discussed ear- lier [i.e., the SPE] . . . the personal characteristics of those who answered the advertisements may have been one reason for the intensifying hostility” (p. 70). In the study reported here, we investigated whether students who volunteer for such a study today may possess dispo- sitions associated with acting abusively. Of course, we cannot revisit the SPE and determine whether and how selective volunteering may have contributed to its results. How results from a current study apply to the SPE can The authors investigated whether students who selec- tively volunteer for a study of prison life possess disposi- tions associated with behaving abusively. Students were recruited for a psychological study of prison life using a virtually identical newspaper ad as used in the Stanford 1973) or for a psychological study, an identical ad minus the words of prison life . Volunteers for the prison study scored significantly higher on measures of the abuse- related dispositions of aggressiveness, authoritarianism, Machiavellianism, narcissism, and social dominance and lower on empathy and altruism, two qualities inversely related to aggressive abuse. Although implications for the SPE remain a matter of conjecture, an interpreta- tion in terms of person-situation interactionism rather than a strict situationist account is indicated by these findings. Implications for interpreting the abusiveness of American military guards at Abu Ghraib Prison also are discussed. Keywords: prison; aggression; Machiavellianism; authoritar- ianism; narcissism T Zimbardo, 1973), one of psychology’s best known stud- ies, is often cited in textbooks as showing that powerful social situations can induce normal young men to behave inhumanely (e.g., Myers, 2002). To Zimbardo, The value of the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) resided in demonstrating the evil that good people can be readily induced into doing to other good people within Authors’ Note: Thomas Carnahan is now at The Personnel Board of Jefferson County, Birmingham, Alabama. This article is based on the master’s thesis of the first author directed by the second. The study
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This note was uploaded on 03/11/2010 for the course PSYC 101 taught by Professor Pomeran during the Fall '08 term at Rice.

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Carnahan& - Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment Could Participant Self-Selection Have Led to the Cruelty Thomas Carnahan Sam

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