Stanford Prison Experiment: Who Are You Really?

Who are you?

No, not your name. That is just a word from one of the thousands of languages that man co-generated. All this in order to convey his thoughts and feelings precisely. But now you are stuck with that word till the end of your days. Afterall your parents felt it was best suited.

No, not your education or profession either. That is just one of the millions of paths you could have taken and contributed to the society with (or as some imbeciles ubiquitous nowadays contributed to harm the society).

Most probably a majority of such attributes or traits that you would use to answer who you are, are not actually in your control. You were either born under such circumstances or goaded towards them. Goaded with factors like dogma about society ,gods, wishes and expectations of your parents, relatives, peers etc.

But the question still remains, who are you??

In my opinion you are a result of all the afore mentioned circumstances. Events working in conjunction along with the derivatives of things beyond your control. These are the ones which help you realise your true purpose in life. They give you a reason to wake up every morning in order to fulfil it.

My apologies if you are irritated already. Because it will only escalate henceforth. Now that we are clear about who you are, I find it safe to assume that you are proud of yourself. You have a gaugeable dignity and self-esteem that you hold very close to your heart. Now imagine if that dignity, that identity and everything associated with it are snatched away from you cold turkey. Would you fight for it or give up?

Does the thought scare you?? I bet it does, because that is what happened with students of Stanford University in their summer break. And the movie does a commendable job in bringing their peril to the big screen.

The head of the psychology department of Stanford decided to conduct an experiment to study the behaviour of captives and the ones who hold the captive with the help of his students and a colleague. They advertise about it offering money to participants agreeing to be kept in a prison simulation. The forthcoming candidates were interviewed and accordingly segregated into jailers and prisoners. The experiment was stipulated to be conducted for one whole month but was stopped after just one week. I hope this article gives you a glimpse to the reason why.

The psychologist had paid great attention to the intricate details of the entire process that a convict goes through after being found guilty. Thus, the students selected for the experiment went through all of these phases of the process. They were picked up from their homes by police personnel in the same fashion keeping in mind the protocols. Also, likewise were stripped off their clothes and belongings. But little did they know that they had signed up for others to exploit their very essence of pride and honour that they cherished every day.

Surprisingly there is no bloodshed, grotesque ambience, scary background score or any characteristic associated with the horror flicks. But nevertheless it makes your stomach churn. The scary part is when you are forced to vicariously feel the turmoil of the prisoners. You are forced to ask yourself what you would do if kept in their position?? Would you fight for your freedom or comply with what is expected from you? What would you give for your freedom? And how would you feel if nothing matters and you are forced to believe that you are in this predicament forever?

A wise man once said that the “ingenuity of a society can be gauged by the condition of their prisons”. That being said we know that the practices of all prisons vary vastly all across the globe. While in Halden (Norway) prison authorities treat the prisoners with good food, library, beds etc, most of the prisons in the world are devoid of their basic human rights. There are various extrajudicial practices prevalent in the jails some of which can permanently alter an inmates’ perspective. The audience of this movie also realizes this.

In one such event the inmates (yeah even you would start calling them that) try to overpower the jailers. Taking advantage of the fact that all had signed a contract stating that no one can physically assault the other. Quite to their surprise the jailer lashed back at one of them. Even the doctor under whose supervision the experiment was being conducted did not intervene as he was intrigued by the possible outcomes of this situation. As a result the prisoners were scared to a point beyond reconciliation and started complying to whatever the jailers ordered.

This in turn goaded the jailers to cross all limits of ethics and morality and exploit all the inmates. All came to an end when the doctor finally realized the gravity of the true effects of this experiment on all involved. The inmates, jailers and the observers too (yeah right even you cant escape it). So he announced that the ‘experiment’ was over. Unfortunately it made no sense to those listening because they had made peace with the fact that they are going to spend their life in the same ‘prison’. But their mirage broke when the doctor rephrased his statement that the prison was now closed and all were free.

The sad part is that you would end up wondering how helpless all of us really are and how most of the things which define us today are not in our control. While the director shows a glimpse of hope in humanity by the means of a jailer who had his inner demons in check from the starting till the end. No matter what happened he never behaved differently with the inmates. The movie ends with the ‘students’ discussing about their experience and with all of us confused about our true nature. Also, how easily it is affected by external stimulus.

So do you know who are you, now?

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