Experimentally studied interpersonal dynamics in a prison environment by designing a functional simulation of a prison in which 21 male undergraduates role-played prisoners and guards over a 1-wk period. All Ss completed the Comrey Personality Inventory, the Mach IV Scale, and the California F Scale prior to the simulation, and there was no evidence of any pathology. 10 Ss played prisoners for the entire week and 11 played guards on a standard 8-hr shift. Neither group received any specific training. Continuous observation of the interactions was supplemented with videotapes, questionnaires, self-report scales, and interviews. All data lead to the conclusion that this simulated prison developed into a compelling prison environment, and as such, it elicited intense, realistic, and often pathological reactions from the participants. A loss of personal identity by the prisoners and the arbitrary control of their behavior resulted in a syndrome characterized by passivity, dependency, depression, and helplessness. Guards, however, experienced gains in social power, status, and group identification. The most dramatic coping behaviors used by 5 prisoners resulted in acute emotional disturbances which led to their early release. At least 1/3 of the guards were judged to have become more aggressive and dehumanizing than would have been predicted in a simulation study. Social implications are discussed in terms of the pathological prisoner syndrome.
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