HOW DO THE ROLES WE’RE GIVEN CHANGE OUR BEHAVIOUR ?

We all have a number of roles in our everyday lives; mother, father, son, daughter, friend, spouse, colleague, boss- the list is endless.

How do the different roles change our behaviour? Are we consistently ourselves?

This was investigated by Zimbardo (1971) in a prison simulation study that yielded astonishing & worrying results.

Participants were randomly given the role of prisoner or guard & told to role play in a mock prison in Stanford University. It didn’t take long for prisoners & guards to live up to the stereotypes. Guards abused their power & made prisoners clean toilets with their bare hands & harassed them in the middle of the night to prevent them from sleeping. Prisoners very quickly believed they were actual prisoners, suffered emotionally & went on strike. The experiment was supposed to continue for 2 weeks but was stopped after 6 days because a number of prisoners had mental breakdowns and the guards were becoming increasingly abusive.

Is this study still relevant today?

What lessons can we learn from it?