The Power of the Situation

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Discovering Psychology: The Power of the SituationIn the early 1970s, Craig Haney, Curt Banks, Carlo Prescott, and Philip Zimbardo conducted a landmark situational study at Stanford University. The experiment tested the fundamental attribution error: our tendency to attribute causes of behavior to personal factors, underestimating the influence of situational conditions.

For this study, a small group of college students volunteered to be subjects and were carefully tested for sound psychological and physical health. Half of the students were randomly selected to act as prisoners, the other half to act as guards. The study took place in a simulated jail facility in the Stanford University Psychology Department.

Once the study subjects entered the simulated jail, uniforms, rules, and other details distinguished the two groups from each other, and blurred the line between the reality of the study and life in prison. The students spent much of the day cramped in tiny cells, undergoing physical trials, and enduring the overall claustrophobic atmosphere of a small jail 24 hours a day. The guards, however, were allowed to return to their homes and normal surroundings after their shifts.

What happened during the study, originally planned to last two weeks, was more dramatic than anyone had anticipated, even the researchers themselves. (Excerpt from learner.org)

Watch the full documentary now

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Ratings: 7.64/10 from 11 users.
  • Curious

    There are lots of actions that we take and reactions that we have, seemingly out of our normal character, that are directly related to situational circumstances and if the situation were any different, our actions and or reactions would have been different as well. God bless us.

  • cezy

    and where's the rest? the milgram experiment has been done again in a bbc documentary a while ago. very impressive.. i wonder what I would do.

  • LIVEFROMLIMBO

    good stuff, yes the milgram experiment is very interesting...they did it in other countries and had surprisingly consistent results. seems humans have been conditioned to submit to authority over time, even if it goes against a person's morals. explains a lot really, great little doc here,

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/KP3SITJS7I2UXVDSLKMGO6CDIM William

    So since humans are uniformly capable of unspeakable and degrading acts to his fellow man, the argument could be made that it is not the person but the social context and setting that ultimately corrupts, whether its Stanford or Auschwitz. Another more recent example would be North Korea.

  • http://twitter.com/Bawipi Van Bawi Tinhlawng

    Milgram experiments explain that if the Global North create the world situation where everyone can have equal power and opportunity then there won't be too many poor and conflicts in the Global South!!