In The Aftermath of The Lifespan of a Lie, I painted a picture of the recent revelations aimed at toppling a science travesty without success. Seeing psychology’s indifferent reaction to the detrimental revelations set me on an endeavor to review the composed piece of art using narratological principles.
In David Eshleman’s deepfake, we went on a rollercoaster ride through the reported brutality to find only one person was hamming his hazing experience. A doctored tape unveiled that on Wednesday nothing happened during the night shift. Some secret side-experiment was run by the puppet master, suggesting John Wayne acted by proxy. And Zimbardo revealed in his response that he decided well before midnight to end the experiment.
The journey in the unfolding narrative landscape continues to get a definitive answer on what really happened. In the spotlight is John Mark, the quintessence of a good guard. His assignment as a guard was against his explicit wishes. He preferred to have played a prisoner. During the simulation, he even asked the researchers if he could join the prisoners but was told he could not. Reluctantly, he dutifully showed up for his day shifts from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m., where he never witnessed anything out of the ordinary.
Mark was David Eshleman’s counterpart and, ironically, his former high school friend. He played arguably the kindest guard who refused to get into the action. Since 2007, he published crucial revealing details to open everyone’s eyes, except few took him seriously. That is until now.
Toughen up of Trump up?
Zimbardo, in his response, brought Mark into his line of defense to thwart the critique that the researchers instructed the guards to act tough, which biased their behavior and distorted the study outcomes.
Le Texier and Blum both raised the issue based on a recording. Although the experiment had only just started, warden Jaffe had a taped little tête-à-tête with Mark after the staff noticed he did not participate during the Monday morning prison revolt. Mark sat by the sidelines when his fellow guards tried to quell the rebellion. Consequently, superintendent Zimbardo ordered his warden to ask Mark to get into the action and be firm.
Zimbardo defended how Jaffe pressured Mark. He claimed that asking a person role-playing a guard in a prison simulation to act is mild compared to the pressures superiors exert in real-life prisons. Real guards failing to participate fully can face disciplinary hearings, demotion, or dismissal.
On the face of it, this makes perfect sense. Superiors would or should reprimand slacking subordinates. That is their responsibility. Even so, the criticism that Blum put forward is not whether the brutality was specifically instructed or not. The issue is related to Zimbardo unwaveringly professing that the unfolding events in the mock prison happened organically and that no staff member influenced or interfered. And this is manifestly not true.
From my previous findings of Zimbardo running a secret experiment, any notion of non-interference is a Fata Morgana. Zimbardo had his henchman do the legwork throughout the simulation as head of the guards. Warden Jaffe was responsible for eliciting tough-guard behavior. Jaffe promoted the required behavior when he planned and scheduled desired actions. He did everything in his power to assure the guards earned their pay in the prison play.
The fuzz over the staff forcing guards is actually an old and stale word feud that moved from Zimbardo personally putting on the pressure to instructing Jaffe to do it for him. Subsequently, the squabble over researcher interference lowered to the level of nitpicking over telling Mark to be tough but not ‘how’ tough.
Zimbardo repeated in his response that the staff did not give any formal or detailed instructions about how to be an effective guard. With this, he says that any instruction without sufficient detail is not an instruction — a somewhat baffling suggestion.
Moreover, what is Zimbardo trying to stress with formal instructions? Did he bring this argument into the debate to emphasize that what he said was informal and therefore irrelevant? That does not fly when you play the prison boss while at the same time being the principal researcher who hired and paid students to playact. Anything said in that capacity was formal.
But as you might sense from my unmasking thus far, splitting hairs is looking through the telescope the wrong way. Before long, you are captive of illusionistic misdirection to make you look at the act to forget the effect. Paying attention to the instruction fosters the impression that Mark toughened up, but Mark did the exact opposite. Jaffe’s intervention had an adverse impact Zimbardo did not reveal in his response. It would wreak havoc on his conclusion.
Mark exemplified psychological reactance, commonly referred to as reverse psychology. Adamant in his convictions that you should not bully poor fellow students who were unfortunate enough to be forced to play prisoner, he mellowed even more. Unrelenting in his defiance, Mark never led the count, barked orders, or engaged in sarcasm.
Despite the pressure from the staff, Mark stood his moral ground. The psychologists put good boys with bad prison superiors and saw who won. The good prevailed. This conclusion is as valid as any other. Perhaps even more. And an inference Erich Fromm already made back in 1973 in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness.
Instead of toughing up, Mark brought fruit and gave extra cigarette privileges. That is why the public impression of boys going brutish is so hurtful to him, as Mark explained to Jon Ronson. Ronson got hold of John Mark on the phone. He asked him, “What happens when you tell people you are a guard in the Stanford Prison Experiment?” Mark responded that everyone assumes that he was brutal. He hears it all the time. But his days as a guard were uneventful. He spent most of the time hanging around and playing cards with the rest of his shift.
Instructing the guards
Mark was not the only good guard who got reprimanded. His mellow buddy guard John Loftus was also easygoing and laid back. Loftus even defied role demands by shedding parts of his guard uniform. He was challenged several times by warden Jaffe. Loftus protested that there weren’t enough sunglasses to go around. He took his shirt off because it was too small for him and later conceded he did not like the idea of the uniform.
Notwithstanding, nitpicking over what warden Jaffe told Mark takes the eye off the other instructions that the researchers gave the guards, starting with the guard orientation on Saturday afternoon. Zimbardo made Jaffe responsible for eliciting tough-guard behavior based on Jaffe’s experience as the mastermind of the Toyon Hall pilot. Jaffe did his utmost to share his expertise during the orientation, all nicely recorded in his log and reflections. Unmistakably, researcher interference started with the prepping, priming, and nudging of the guards the day before the simulation kicked off.
For anyone unfamiliar with the sequence of events, David Jaffe did a pilot prison simulation on May 15 and 16, 1971, with the aid and advice of ex-convict Carlo Prescott. Zimbardo reused the ideas and impressions they obtained during the unobtrusive project. One idea was to copy the pilot prisoner rules. Le Texier compared the Toyon Hall and Stanford prisoner rules. He concluded that at least 11 of the 17 were near one-on-one copies. The six remaining rules were mere adaptations to the space and the length of the Stanford prison.
Now, what is the influence of prisoner rules on participant behavior? Rules are formal standing orders dictating interaction. Irrespective of the situation, guards are expected to enforce them, and prisoners are expected not to break them. In this sense, rules are instructions affecting the behavior of everyone in the interdependent symbiotic relationship.
Therefore, Zimbardo’s idea that the guards did not receive instructions was always otherworldly. The prisoner rules also applied to them. Additionally, Zimbardo directed no physical violence or torture, no acts of racism, and no enforced homosexuality. Nor were the guards allowed to lock a prisoner up in confinement indefinitely.
And there were more illustrative instructions given during the guard orientation. Zimbardo told the guards that they could create boredom and a sense of frustration. A notion of arbitrariness was allowed to dehumanize. To some degree, they could even create fear in the prisoners. The objective was to totally control the prisoners and allow no privacy, no freedom of action. Above all, the guards got strict orders to ensure no prisoner escaped and that the prisoners did not do or say anything impermissible.
The instructive warden
The standing orders and clear directions are peanuts to the hands-on management of the prison. Yet, the fact that this simulation was a prison run by psychologists has somehow faded into the background.
Central to running the daily operation was the suggested daily schedule. The schedule instructed the guards on what they were meant to do during the day. Warden Jaffe copied the program with daily events from his pilot and finalized it during the guard orientation.
Each day started with wake-up and morning exercise. Jaffe suggested that the guards have the prisoners do jumping jacks, push-ups, or other basic health stuff. Besides bathroom runs, rest periods, and meals, the timetable consisted of five counts and two work periods. The researchers filled these work periods with visiting hours and tedious chores.
Warden Jaffe was instrumental in enforcing the daily routines. He micromanaged the prison yard and was the voice on the intercom making stupid-sounding announcements. As a staff member, he ran non-stop interference by giving orders. He took his responsibility to force tension seriously.
As head of the guards, Jaffe made the prisoners engage in useless chores to pass the time. One was moving carton boxes back and forth between closets. After the rebellion on Monday, he made sure the guards forced the prisoners to pick nettles — which they had to call stickers — out of their blankets for hours on end.
The event, highlighted often by Zimbardo, was not thought up by the guards in a stroke of creative revenge as reported. Jaffe gave the order to take the blankets outside and drag them through the underbrush. He fantasized about thorny blankets covered with burr and straw while explaining the daily routine during the guard orientation. The idea stuck with him from his pilot.
While he paints this vivid picture, Jaffe is also very explicit about how long the guards can make the count last to instill boredom and exert control. Moreover, he stressed that the count is a good time for the guards to humiliate the prisoners or be sarcastic.
The warden then discussed at length how to manage the prisoners and what would be the appropriate punishment for disobedience. He focused on push-ups. No wonder push-ups soon became a staple in the guards’ control and punishment tactics. Harmless preconceived penalization Zimbardo later framed as a surprise spontaneous act by the guards similar to Nazi camp punishment practices.
Towards the end of the meeting, Jaffe shared his Toyon Hall pilot experience. The pilot simulation quickly ran out of control. Indirectly, he imprinted that the researchers expected the guards to re-enact the events he described. With his story, Jaffe offered his guards the screenplay to perform. The guard indoctrination left little to the imagination.
Researchers running interference
The summon Mark received on Monday is peanuts — an insignificant encouragement to play his part with negligible impact. Jaffe’s unimpressive one-off request blindsided to look at the bigger picture. The influence of standing orders, daily schedules, pastime suggestions, and work instructions on guard behavior escaped attention. Zimbardo’s ferocious contest that the researchers never meddled in the simulation is untenable.
After all, Stanford Prison was run by psychologists, not the state. Critically, giving instructions is only one side of the directive coin. The flip side is interference. The staff intervened non-stop by taking measures. Staffing the top of the prison power pyramid allowed the researcher to pull whatever strings they wanted to control the enfolding events. How far did they go?
Rummaging around the Internet searching for conspicuous interference, I came across a lengthy discussion Mark started on Reddit. In 2015, he went on ‘I Am A (AMA)’ to tell his side of the prison story. In the interactive interviews, he disclosed his experiences and shared his thoughts. The posts are a fascinating read — authentic replies to intriguing questions.
Mark inadvertently reveals the degree to which the staff tried to control the situation by planting a mole on Tuesday. He knew Korpi’s replacement — David Gorchoff (#8612-2) — was one of Zimbardo’s grad students. Gorchoff was an acquaintance of Mark, assigned to discover what the prisoners were scheming after a jailbreak rumor started circulating in the morning.
Mark didn’t unmask Gorchoff and is convinced no one was supposed to know he was part of the research team. None of the guards knew the spy volunteered to replace Korpi as an informer when the staff got wind that Korpi planned to return later that day to bust his buddies out. The mole demonstrates how little the guards acted on their won.
Another staff intervention was strengthening the weak day shift. Mark and Loftus, the two prototypical good guards, were out of the action. Their laidback roleplaying threatened to turn the study into a summer camp, which the researchers wanted to avoid at all costs.
The staff observed the amiable behavior of the day shift and introduced something unreported. In the now-famous Monday morning exchange with Mark, warden Jaffe suggests supplementing his struggling shift with an extra guard. He mentions the staff will get a 4th guard in for today. And so the researchers did. In came Moses Moreno, one of the two backup guards.
Sometime on Monday, Moreno joined to bolster the weak link, or he stayed on after being called in to help put the rebellion down. Moreno also helped on Tuesday, but not the days after that. I could not ascertain why he was dismissed, although it does account for Wednesday becoming relaxed, just as Glenn Gee (#3401) reported.
Remarkably, Zimbardo never mentions Moreno in the nearly 300 pages covering the simulation in his book The Lucifer Effect. Except that he and the other backup went by the book to punish infractions without being personally abusive toward individual prisoners.
The power of non-interference
Undeniably, the researchers meddled with the sequence of events, especially when they did nothing! Interference is a double-edged sword. When those in power do nothing or, even worse, stand by smiling and nodding approval, this can result in the evil of inaction. Power comes with the responsibility to act when subordinates act out.
Zimbardo tried to make us believe that the guards held power over powerless prisoners. As a result of this power setting, the guard turned on their fellow students. But this was not the experimental set-up. The psychologists were the actual power holders. As soon as one of them entered the prison yard, the students started to act differently. Subordinates tend to change their behavior when a superior can lay eyes on them.
Superintendent Zimbardo played the prison boss. As head of the prison and paying principal, he wielded absolute power. His staff held all the prison positions. Banks and Haney roleplayed chief lieutenants. Other staff members filled positions in the grievance committee or acted as parole board members. The guards resided at the bottom of the power scale as mere hired hands.
In the middle, delicately balancing between pig and twerp, warden Jaffe did his utmost to solicit tough-guard behavior. Zimbardo asked him to suggest tactics based on his previous experience as a master sadist. Even he thought himself low on the simulation totem pole, compelled to do whatever the more senior researchers ordered.
Now for how organizational power works. Subordinate employees on the lower rungs are monitored, instructed, and held in check by superiors enforcing policy and rules. A prison run by psychologists implies that the superintendent and his staff were responsible for keeping the students in line. So did the psychologists play their part in the pick order?
Not by a long shot. Curt Banks was the only one who stepped in once when he got Ramsey (#416) out of the hole late Thursday night after Eshleman had locked him in for hours. Even Jaffe reflected on letting things intentionally get out of hand and never stepping in. The researchers purposefully made shambles of running an orderly jail.
The neglect of duty places the allegation that no guard ever tried to stop a colleague in a different light. It was never down to peers to reprimand one another. In reality, no correction officer will ever rebuke a fellow guard in front of inmates — a crucial part of the (informal) correction code.
Notwithstanding, the total lack of adequate control had far more impact than encouraging one guard to get into the act. Dereliction by the top of the prison food chain caused the prison system to break down. The outcome was not that situational and systemic forces led to aberrant behavior. The correct conclusion is that a massive systemic flaw in the chain of command allowed improprieties. Staff non-interference gave the guards free reign to prank.
Presence leads to power abuse
A crucial point to note is that the guards knew they were being observed and recorded. That is why a lack of corrective feedback feels like tacit approval. Non-interference sends the unmistakable message that this is what we want to see and keep it up by all means. Maria Konnikova made a similar point in The New Yorker.
Indeed, if anything, the researchers’ inaction encouraged the guards to up the ante. The warden physically pranced around the prison yard without stepping in. There was always a psychologist on duty. The non-stop presence in the mock prison refutes plausible deniability.
Not intervening did not only give Eshleman implicit approval to escalate his badgering of those poor boys. Zimbardo told Eshleman he did a great job, encouraging him to continue with what he was doing to the prisoners.
The simulation situation is like a benevolent father who gleefully looks on as his two sons are at each other throats. Maybe he even nods in pride when one son, with his fist raised high, glances over his shoulder at his father just before beating the crap out of his brother. Instructions are often nonverbal.
Moreover, Jaffe said something else to Mark according to Zimbardo, “Come on, you’re getting fifteen bucks a day, you’ve got to do something. Now, why don’t you want to act as if you’re a tough guard?” Referencing the pay sounds like corporate blackmail. Bosses resort to power misuse when they feel powerless to force their will. After all, power is not something you have: power is given. And Mark refused.
Failing to use bestowed power properly is a far more detrimental abuse of power. So it appears that with our eyes fixated on the encouragement Jaffe had to give Mark, we were blind for non-intervention. While critics looked for Milgramian obedience, they overlooked the effect of authoritarian implicit approval. To spot this is not hard. When a system breaks down, you follow the ladder up. The buck stops at the top!
Paradoxically, not interfering is massive tampering with the outcome. Superintendent Zimbardo was always accountable for what unfolded. He even claimed it became his job to hold in check the growing violence and arbitrary displays of power by the guards. How he never detailed. The reality is, no staff member interfered, demonstrating a dysfunctional prison hierarchy.
All in all, the tenet that the guards wielded power and acted on their own was always preposterous. It would be similar to claiming soldiers or a corporate workforce doing the same. We never needed Jaffe having his innocent chitchat with Mark to see the psychologists were the systemic force. Slowly the cloaking contours of the fallacious picture Zimbardo has painted are clearing. But why did it take so long?
Mark starts to speak out
It took decades for John Mark to break his silence. Although the study never sat right with him, Mark was extremely uncomfortable, similar to Eshleman, with Zimbardo’s expert testimony in the Abu Ghraib guard trials. Zimbardo lifting off the atrocities was understandably a bridge too far. The evil expert stretching the truth in the media was upsetting. The final straw was repeating his spectacular situational conclusion in Zimbardo Unbound.
Mark vouched to try and set the record straight. In 2007, he started to write Letters to the editor of Stanford Magazine to counter Zimbardo’s version of the Stanford Prison. In his first letter, he reacted directly to the troubling conclusion. Zimbardo painted all student participants with the same broad brush, prophesizing ‘the’ guards abused ‘the’ prisoners while minimizing or ignoring his active role in the transgressions.
In Mark’s view, Zimbardo and his acolytes took a giant eraser and removed themselves from the equation. They eradicated their undesired erroneous mark on the simulation by filling the top ranks of the administration. A mistake Zimbardo has admitted on plenty of occasions. Yet was it a mistake?
Mark explained that the prison run by psychologists was an experiment to prove Zimbardo’s conclusions, where he ignored or downplayed any behavior not comporting, “I feel that Professor Zimbardo and the prison leadership established an environment where prisoner abuse was expected.” Mark’s feeling is right on the money. Zimbardo wrote his conclusions in advance in a news release on Monday. A cardinal sin in science.
Besides the letters, Mark also contributed to The Menace Within — the 40th-anniversary feature in the Stanford Magazine. Based on his experience, he thinks the actual events don’t match up with the bold headline. Mark outright questions Zimbardo’s intentions to try to force results and shape conclusions. Specifically, he stressed Zimbardo went out of his way to create tension with forced sleep deprivation.
Mark referred to the midnight count around 2.30 a.m., holding the prisoners up late and waking them up early at 6 a.m. Sleep disruption and deprivation were master sadist Jaffe’s crafty ideas from his Toyon Hall pilot. It certainly had a profound effect.
Richard Yacco (#1037) remarked in the same feature article that it was the first thing that threw him off. After the first night, he realized the guards were messing with his sleep cycles. Even Clay Ramsey (#416), in just two nights, thought the most effective thing they did was simply interrupt sleep. The resultant disorientation was a major contributing factor to the reported submissive behavior.
Later that year, in his third letter, Mark repeated his contention and added that many consider sleep deprivation a form of torture banned by the Geneva Conventions. Again Mark is right. According to the 1949 Conventions, sleep deprivation for victims of war is a form of illegal torture. More importantly, the United States defines sleep deprivation since 1930 as an unlawful form of brutality.
Illegalities beyond the unethical
Sleep deprivation was not the only criminal wrongdoing. While the guards committed no atrocities, the psychologists enforced a form of false imprisonment that set off Douglas Korpi’s outbursts. Korpi was the first who was confronted with being held against his will when he told Zimbardo he wanted out on Monday. Zimbardo told him he could only leave on medical and psychopathological grounds. In California locking a contract employee in a room trying to get out can be considered a violation of the penal code.
In all fairness, the trepidation of being trapped has a mitigating side. The prisoners signed the consent form stating, “I will only be released from participation for reasons of health deemed adequate by the medical advisers to the research project or for other reasons deemed appropriate by Dr. Philip Zimbardo.” In essence, just like Zimbardo told Korpi, you only get out on medical or psychopathological grounds. Guess you should always read what you sign, but then again, who does.
Additionally, the psychologists exploited unsanitary and unhealthy conditions. After the evening bathroom run, the prisoners had to urinate and defecate in buckets inside their cell — this stank up the basement. The prison had an oppressive smell. The prisoners were never allowed to shower, which also did wonders for the air quality.
Further, the basement deprived the prisoners of daylight and fresh air. The researchers did not allow the prisoners to go outside. Indeed, they forced the prisoners to wear chains while sleeping to further mess with their rest. Sometimes food of questionable quality was given, and the guards could use billy clubs without training.
Unsurprisingly, Mark wondered how the American Psychological Association found that the study satisfied ethical standards. In 1973, Zimbardo asked for an ethics evaluation which he passed with flying colors. The APA concluded that all existing ethical guidelines had been followed.
The leading psychological association condoned willful acts of dehumanization and purposeful mental abuse. They sanctioned deprivation of sleep, hygiene, fresh air, proper food, and daylight. Considering the legalities, this is incomprehensible. Perhaps Zimbardo should have requested a criminal investigation.
Nevertheless, most of these atrocities went unreported, same for the evil of inaction and dereliction of duty. These aspects were hardly discussed as possible explanations for the unfolding events. Hidden in obscurity, cleverly cloaked in disguise, Zimbardo and his colleagues persistently downplayed their responsibility as if they were objective observers. Incomprehensibly, they also claimed to lose control of their prison and themselves.
An emerging third plotline
Mark commented in his letters on the direct involvement of the staff in the simulation. In his view, playing lead researcher and prison boss would seem an apparent conflict of interest. In their capacity as prison management, the staff were responsible for counseling and disciplining misbehaving guards, which they neglected. Zimbardo theorized on why other guards did not perform their duty instead of him.
Superintendent Zimbardo made it appear that he quickly became fully immersed in his prison role. While the prisoners and the guards were pretending to roleplay, the superintendent lost his perspective as an objective researcher. Why is that?
Probably to magnify the drama, Zimbardo claimed he internalized his superintendent role. On visiting night Tuesday, he acted as the head of the prison to one of the parents, “She was reacting to the authority that I was unconsciously becoming the superintendent of the Stanford County Jail. That was who I was: I’m not the researcher at all.”
Hours later, Zimbardo staged a flight to the fifth floor while telling off a visiting colleague as if he had lost himself completely in his role. Bowers, a department colleague, dropped by and asked about the independent variable in this study. To Zimbardo’s surprise, he really got angry at him. With a prison break on his hands, the security and stability of the prison were at stake. Ranting thoughts like this bleeding-heart, liberal, academic, effete dingdong crossed his mind. It wasn’t until sometime later that he realized how far into the experiment he was at that point.
Zimbardo has been telling that within two days, he was no longer thinking like a researcher. And there are other examples of Zimbardo’s gradual transformation into the superintendent. For instance, he started to change his posture and walk with his hands on his back through the prison yard, like a general inspecting the troops.
The psychologists were not the only ones caught in the situation. On Wednesday, the priest’s visit further blurred the line between role-playing and reality, according to Zimbardo. The priest gave the prisoners legal instead of spiritual guidance, which made the line between reality and illusion even more obscure. The poor priest also got subsumed by the situation.
Fooling the control group
Jaffe said a lot more during his famous Monday morning encouragement. His attempt to get Mark to act tough went on a lot longer. When you continue to listen, they exchange some far more exciting things. Further in the conversation, Jaffe reveals the required outcome. He emphasized that what they wanted to come out of the study are solid recommendations for prison reform because they know that prison is not nice but do not know how much. That is why Mark had to get into the action to see how the prisoners would react to living in a bad place.
Jaffe tried to manipulate Mark to join the activist cause. He knew or at least suspected Mark was susceptible to such an argument. Most students around that time were rebels with a cause. Then Jaffe goes on. No prison is going to allow us to do 24-hour observations, “We have no way of studying the effects of a real prison on people.”
The psychologists raised this mind-boggling declaration in the New York Times article. The reality is that plenty of prison studies have taken place before 1971. Gresham Sykes did a famous study inside a maximum security facility during the ‘50s. He concluded that prisons are terrible for everyone inside, similar to what Zimbardo and his confederates tried to demonstrate.
Continuing, Jaffe remarks that the staff wants to learn so they can get in the media and the press, “We want to go to the public and demonstrate what happens when you have guards that behave brutally. To be able to do that, we need the guards to get into the action.”
The purpose of the study was to pressure reform via the press, never a study of prison life. What a powerful and perverted incentive to spice the outcome and create a fictitious spectacle to reach the public. And what better way to ensure that you have a sensational story than to make events up as we saw with the camel humping. How many more scenes were invented to ensure they got the craved media coverage?
Mark then questions the cycle of escalating restrictions when things go wrong. He was referring to the prisoner rebellion of that morning. If it were up to him, he would let things cool off. Jaffe responds that the purpose is not to make a better prison. As close as they can make it, the study is supposed to be a copy of prison life to see what it does to ordinary innocent people. The purpose was only to study the effect of harshness on prisoners.
Hearing these arguments, Mark agrees that he can do the guard things like really act tough, yelling, and stuff. Next, Mark notes that they run the risk that the prisoners will rip up the coverings. Trying to put his mind at ease, Jaffe explains that they may move to the old abandoned county jail. That will solve the problem of prisoners ripping up the basement. I will return to the intended move later: it has great significance for Tuesday’s events.
Then Jaffe mentions something astounding. He stresses that the guards are the control group, and the prisoners are the experimental group where ‘we’ do something to them. Again note the operative we, including the psychologists as prison staff.
Moreover, telling Mark he is the control group exonerates whatever the guards did since they were not the object of study. In this case, manipulating the guards in believing they were the controls is Milgramesque testing if adolescents can be tricked into obeying an authority to act tough. In the case of Mark, can you coerce someone unwilling to go outside his comfort zone for an activist cause?
Stanley Milgram did the obedience to authority study in 1961. Except here, he would have told his volunteers they were the controls and that they needed to go all the way to 450 Volt to see the terrible effect on the learners to take a message to the public. The misrepresentation undermines the validity of the study design. No wonder guard Chuck Burton remarked the experimenters had set the guards up. Pity he spoke out 43 years after the experiment and not sooner.
Questioning the selection
Further in the exchange on Monday, Mark aired suspicion about the random selection to get two similar groups. He preferred to have been selected to play a prisoner. Jaffe explained that the idea behind the study is to get as nearly equal groups so the guards can be the control group and the prisoners the experimental one. The random selection forced Mark to play a guard, much to his demise.
Mark counters that starting with the same groups based on random selection is unlike a real prison. In prisons, the groups of correction officers and convicts are as dissimilar as can be. Mark suggests that the lack of differences undermines the validity of the study.
Years later, Mark cast further doubt on the selection he never witnessed, “No, we did not flip coins to choose our status.” Backup guard Petersen also believed that the participants were selected to achieve the desired results. Whitt Hubbell (#7258) considered that the bigger guys got chosen to play guard. Jerry Shue thought along the same lines and questioned whether, on average, the guards were bigger. Paul Baran (#5704) was convinced the researchers picked him as a prisoner.
In fact, nearly all students doubted the random allocation to a role. Even Eshleman did in his final evaluation interview. He told Jaffe he noticed distinct differences between the two groups. Did the staff the guards and prisoners with a mere flip of the coin?
Let’s zoom out and go back to the start of the selection process. Even before the advertisement in the local papers, the researchers opted to go for male college students. Why did they? Several ideas pop to mind. First is the power a professor holds over students. No college boy in his right mind will risk an academics’ wrath on getting a degree. The staff had a firm stranglehold over students worried about things like getting into graduate school.
Second, young male college students are likely to act recklessly. Boys will be boys. Fraternity life is full of toxic masculinity and transgressive behavior like binge drinking and sexual abuse. Hazing provided the practical experience to play the expected role. More adult men would definitely have reacted differently.
And why only men? Zimbardo himself explained this in the guard debriefing on Friday. The researchers deliberately avoided a gender mix because, in the Toyon Hall pilot, boys and girls played both guards and prisoners, which led to sexual tensions to do favors to be released. Zimbardo wanted none of that.
Then the impact of offering money. Zimbardo has highlighted the main reason for the students to participate was to earn some easy money. But a paying principal professor easily exploits a student in sore need of cash. Offering money for a science study pre-selects those susceptible to needing money and doing anything required or requested to ensure payment. Remuneration is a blackmailing force to be reckoned with.
Additionally, pay to play forced the students to see their participation as a job. The power setting, where the psychologists staffed the top places in the simulated prison, implied the researchers as superiors had the far-reaching influence of an employer. Both in what they organized, said, and observed with approval.
The nonrandom preselection
Some 75 students applied for the job to participate in a psychological study of prison life. The applicants were given an ‘extensive’ questionnaire asking questions on family background, physical and mental health, crimes committed, and prior psychopathology. The applicants that returned the questionnaire earned an interview with Curt Banks and Chris Haney.
In total, they hired twenty-four students. David Eshleman was plainly recruited for his acting skills. On what criteria the others got picked is unknown. I could find no record of the interviews or the selection process.
However, from the selection, it is evident the students had to be Caucasian middle-class all-American subjects. Only one student was Asian-American. This way, the psychologists obtained a homogeneous sample of America’s finest. Just what was needed for a dramatic story. In Mark’s view, Zimbardo wanted to say that college students from middle-class backgrounds will turn on each other just because they get the role and power.
The advertisement, preselection, and job interviews imply that the students were never volunteers or randomly selected in the first place. The participants were hand-picked from discriminating filters with the job advertisement in the local newspapers seeking male college students. Now, what about the rigorous testing to pick the most healthy normal subjects?
Zimbardo repeats in his response what he and his fellow authors proclaimed in the official papers. Twenty-four college students completed a battery of psychological tests to establish that they were healthy and normal. This means the already selected students were given the psychology tests on Saturday. The tests had no role in filtering the normal-average and mentally healthy students from the original 75 who applied.
Importantly, psychological tests to establish that someone is normal do not exist. They never have and never will. Any personality test measures specific traits or mental attributes as defined by the test. The resulting score compares to the average scores of others on the same test. Hence the students were normal-average — a meaningless term when trying to predict individual behavior. Scoring a statistical average (the norm) on an arbitrary personality test was intermixed with being ordinary to toy with the idea that the participating students were normal boys. And there is more.
I checked the three papers released in 1973. The abstracts of the journal publications state that the selection was after diagnostic testing. Yet we know that only the selected students from the interviews did the psychological tests on Saturday. Not only that. The researchers tabulated the tests afterward to avoid selective bias. In other words, the tests were not supposed to have a role in the selection. The journal abstracts are misguiding and in complete contradiction to the procedure that was followed.
The rigorous diagnostic testing is a hoax to sell the outcome. The situational attribution was purely based on the selection procedure ruling out preexisting personality differences. This makes the conclusion baseless since the tests were not used in the selection. Anyone could have spotted this discrepancy in the 1973 journal publications.
More doubts about the conclusion
Mark has openly wondered if the conclusion is right — a power situation leads to evil power abuse. Would the conclusion not apply to all the guards? He felt that Zimbardo painted the guards incorrectly with the same broad brush while effectively ignoring of downplaying the actions of the students that did not comport to the conclusion. Zimbardo discarded what Mark and others did.
The aberrant question to ask, what is the difference between Mark and Eshleman? They were both tested normal-average, healthy young adults with no significant personality differences. High school friends residing in the same obtrusive environment, albeit in different shifts, and both acted on their own initiative. So what made two similar men behave radically opposed under identical circumstances?
The difference is choice. Eshleman decided to act out to steal the show, and Mark opted to remain faithful to his convictions. Both believed they did the proper thing, proving anyone can behave contradictory for the right reasons.
Mark felt that bullying the poor, powerless prisoners was wrong. The injustice by assigning his fellow students to play prisoner nagged his conscience. He compensated by acting kind, which made him feel better. Eshleman had fewer scruples and had no problem replaying his hazing experience.
Eshleman ran, knowingly or unknowingly, a little experiment with Zimbardo. Arguably this comes closest to the idea of unseen forces lurking in the shadows to snatch your senses like some psychopathogen. Zimbardo was Eshleman’s situational and systemic force that can take control to make you do incomprehensible deeds. The key is Eshleman willingly played along, even if he did internalize his role. Mark resisted.
Irrespective, the official story is that Eshleman internalized John Wayne. The role had taken demonical possession of Eshleman’s mind. If that miraculously happened, the idea of a fixed and testable personality itself is forfeit. Character traits would be contextual. Even so, why did only one student internalize Dr. Jekyll? Is Eshleman predisposed to act out under the wrong circumstances, just like Fromm inferred in 1973 to support a dispositional explanation?
The golden standard
Zimbardo stressed the individual differences among the guards in the issue of good guard Mark getting instructions. He claimed in his response that one or two guards on each shift became progressively meaner over time. Others maintained a more even-tempered style, and a few could be considered good guards from the prisoners’ perspectives. In other words, there were decent, diligent, and devilish guards.
The first thing to note is that each shift only had three guards. When two gradually turn meaner, that leaves one to balance the equation. Those numbers do not add up. Secondly, Craig Haney’s video analysis concluded that John Wayne’s shift was much more severe than the other guards. That is why Zimbardo refers to the extreme behaviors of the iconic guard nicknamed John Wayne for his macho performance on the night shift.
The other two shifts were benign — especially the day shift of the benevolent John Mark. According to Mark, only one guard acted out on the prisoners, and that was David Eshleman. During his shift, nothing out of the ordinary occurred.
Mark was on the merry shift that started at 10 a.m. From the very beginning, his shift was the weak link. The classic good guard duo — laid-back John Mark and the easy-going John Loftus — was a nightmare for the psychologists forcing the action. These two left the diligent and fair guard pretense to Terry Arnett, leader of the day shift, and in part to backup guard Moreno.
Most of the time both Johns smoked and played cards. Mark even admitted he was getting high all the time — before, during, and after his shift. Zimbardo denied he ever spotted guard Mark off guard. He brought up Mark’s lucid interviews and reports, as well as his staff not recollecting as evidence to the contrary.
This is a strange reply since weed is not a psychedelic. Weed works like alcohol. Soft-drugs users light up a joint to take the edge off. Once accustomed to regular use, blowers simply relax. Mark’s weed-induced mind accounts for his peaceful nature.
Next, Zimbardo emphasized in his response, as he has repeatedly done, that none of the good guards ever intervened to prevent the cruelty of their fellow guards. With only Eshleman as the main bully on the block, we can understand why.
Mark explained in his own words why he never intervened, “Since I witnessed no physical violence or specific incident that crossed the line of prison guard malfeasance during the day shift of the experiment, what position was I in to judge and intervene against the actions of others?”
Understandably, Mark has made this point on several occasions. He never witnessed any wrongdoing, nor was he party to improprieties. His shift only tried to get through the uneventful hours, just as the morning shift. They did not fight the prisoners but fought the sheer boredom of a mind-numbing shift in a smelly basement.
So six of the nine guards were never privy to any of the nightshift pranking. They couldn’t step in. Nor was it their duty. The researchers were responsible and should have intervened. Why does Zimbardo keep on repeating this invalid point? Because he is allowed to handpick issues commentators raise and make any flawed claim while conveniently ignoring valid criticism in an obsessive attempt to control and defend his narrative. The whole process of disputing a scientific study is incredibly defective.
Is that all, folks?
John Mark told us a lot about those few entrapped days in the basement of the Stanford psychology department. His experience is a far cry from the published story. Based on his observations, he believes that Zimbardo began with a preformed blockbuster conclusion and designed an experiment to prove that conclusion. This allowed Zimbardo to edit and publish the results to make his version gospel. And by holding the identities of many participants in the dark, Zimbardo could control the flawed narrative.
John Mark struggled to be heard. Few took him serious enough to pay attention to the crucial things he pointed out. The tales he told on parley platforms never amounted to more than sharing points of view of a minor participant. For some reason, the mutterings of an enlisted student are insignificant compared to the boisterous certitude of anointed academic authorities. Unrightfully, as it now turns out. And not for the first time in history.
Can we learn anything from the experiment? Hannah Knowles asked Mark. He thinks the story of the Stanford Prison Experiment will, in the end, be about the psychology of the researcher Zimbardo rather than the psychology of his subjects. I agree with Mark. Besides tale-telling about the situation twisting the minds of psychology researchers, the experimental travesty illustrates our human fallibility to see through the deception. One that I have barely unfolded so far.
Fortunately, the extent of a scripted Pirandellian prison play by the Stanford psychology staff is slowly demystifying. Italian playwright Pirandello blended fiction and reality into a spellbinding story., He had free reign to compose pieces of art. However, scientists should not take an artistic license to untether events to fabricate a fairy tale and sell it as solid science. How far did they go in writing a play?
To answer this, we continue to unravel the true story and return to specialist deceiver Douglas Korpi. He is the conscience-ridden psychologist who came clean he faked his breakdown after thriving on his con for decades to fill his psychology practice. My truth-seeking enterprise started with his testimony and the question whether the gullible masses were tricked again. Did Korpi tell Blum the truth this time about his ordeal? The jury is still out. The only way to find out is to follow the roadmap to revelation and put him to trial in Douglas Korpi on trial.