It’s been forty years since the Stanford prison experiment and the university’s alumni magazine has asked the participants and researchers for their reflections on their role in the notorious events of 1971.
It makes for a fascinating read as it not only gets Zimbardo to comment on the eventually out-of-control study but also talks to one of the abusive ‘guards’ (now a mortgage salesman) one of the ‘prisoners’ (now a teacher) and the whistleblower who eventually called for the study to end.
This is from Craig Haney, one of the researchers from the study:
I also realized how quickly we get used to things that are shocking one day and a week later become matter-of-fact. During the study, when we decided to move prisoners to different parts of the prison, we realized that they were going to see where they were and be reminded they’re not in a prison—they’re just in the psych building at Stanford. We didn’t want that to happen.
So we put paper bags over their heads. The first time I saw that, it was shocking. By the next day we’re putting bags on their heads and not thinking about it. That happens all the time in real correctional facilities. You get used to it. I do a lot of work in solitary-confinement units, on the psychological effects of supermax prisons. In places like that, when prisoners undergo the so-called therapy counseling, they are kept in actual cages. I constantly remind myself never to get used to seeing the cages.
The article sheds light both on the study and the lives of the the key players, now and then.