The Stanford Prison Experimentor may have neglected to mention:

… that Zimbardo played a key role in encouraging his “guards” to behave in tyrannical fashion.

Question marks have also been raised about the self-selection of particular personality types into the study. Moreover, in 2002, the social psychologists Steve Reicher and Alex Haslam conducted the BBC Prison Study to test the conventional interpretation of the SPE. The researchers deliberately avoided directing their participants as Zimbardo had his, and this time it was the prisoners who initially formed a strong group identity and overthrew the guards.

This didn’t apparently make it into the official history, let alone into the official history textbooks.

Of further interest is the fact that such elisions are rather common:

Over half the 99 textbooks sampled quoted the percentage of responses in which participants yielded to the group majority, without even mentioning the
far larger proportion of responses which went against the mistaken herd (only one writer showed the opposite bias). As regards individual differences, 42 per cent of books gave greater emphasis to quoting the number of participants who conformed, while just 5 per cent showed the opposite bias. Another misleading habit has been to flag up the percentage of participants who yielded to majority opinion at least once (76 per cent), without providing the opposite figure – the 95 per cent of participants who stayed independent at least once.

And also interesting:

It is often reported that Albert’s conditioned fear of white rats generalised to, among other things, a fear of dogs. The reality is that Albert was initiallyunmoved when, after his conditioning, a dog was first brought into the laboratory. After that, the dog, previously silent, barked three times loudly just six inches from Albert’s face. In the words of the original 1920 report, not only was Albert upset, but ‘The sudden barking of the hitherto quiet dog produced a marked fear response in the adult observers!’ This was hardly an appropriately controlled test of Albert’s conditioned fears.

Authors have also invented stimuli that Albert was never tested on, including a cat, a man’s beard, a white furry glove, his aunt, a teddy bear, as well as the oft-cited claim that he became fearful of all ‘furry animals’. Another curious error is that textbook authors have tended to claim that Albert’s mother withdrew him from Watson and Rayner’s care before they had a chance to extinguish his fears using desensitisation. The truth, apparent from the original 1920 report, is that Watson and Rayner knew a month in advance when Albert would no longer be available.

“Everything you know and have been taught is a lie” might just be true for psychology students.


Author: leighbrackettsland

Student. Reader. Watcher. Dabbler.

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