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Sociologists work revolves around examining social phenomenon at different degrees and more so from different vantage points. This includes solid interpretations of social behavior and society to common generalizations of human behavior (Zimbardo, Christina and Craig 732). This involves the examination of specific events at a micro level to the analysis of the bigger picture which in this context will revolve around large social settings. To further explore the correlation between the bigger picture and micro level social behavior, this paper will look into an article authored by Phillip G. Zimbardo titled ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment at the micro level and relate it to the essay titled, ‘The loss of the Creature’ by Walker Percy. This paper will offer a brief summary of Zimbardo’s masterpiece and present an analysis of social behavior on a macro level with reference to the big picture as established by Walker Percy.
Summary of the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment
In 1971, Zimbardo and a team of other sociologists created a situation in which they could carry out a psychological study to better understand the impact with which social roles tend to influence human behavior within social settings. In this particular case, Zimbardo and his team opted to simulate a prison environment in which there were both prisoners and prison guards.
The participants involved in the study included university students who were offered a stipend for their role in the study. A total of 21 participants were recruited where ten were chosen to be prisoners while 11 were chosen to b prison guards (Zimbardo, Christina and Craig 735). To choose the prison guards and the prisoners, a coin was flipped so as to eliminate any chance of bias.
The study was conducted at a time when the psychological department at Stanford University was on recess. The department’s basement was temporarily transformed into a jailhouse. Participants chosen as prisoners were arrested and charged by officers from Pato Alto’s police department, put in detention, bound in chains and given prison uniform (Zimbardo, Christina and Craig 735). They were later transported to the temporary jail to serve their prison sentence the Jailers on the other hand were accorded official uniform, sunglasses and truncheons.
The experiment was slated to last a fortnight but was abruptly ended after the sixth day. This is the study’s intent to scrutinize the role of authority and seniority in captivity (Zimbardo, Christina and Craig 740). It has been used to exhibit the obedience as well as impressionability of society members when accorded a justifiable ideology, institutional and social support.
In summary of ‘The Loss of the Creature’, Walter Percy provides an intellectual examination of the preconceived mindsets different people in society tend to have in a given social situation (Percy 483). Percy provides that to better understand the true character society attaches to a given culture, history, or geographical marvel, the best way of understanding how the society experiences such is through relating to the perceptions of other members of society relative to a particular social situation. In other words, Percy provides that one cannot comprehend such a situation by looking at it from one given perspective but rather through attempting to comprehend the perception of different views from different members of society who have witnessed the event (Percy 481).
Analysis of the ‘Stanford Prison experiment in relation to ‘The Loss of the Creature’
The ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ served to underscore the fact that normal and intelligent members of society are no different from others when offered with roles sanction by law to accord them power and authority (Zimbardo, Christina and Craig 742). As such, in the simulated prison environment, one of the guards provided that in the first day, he felt pity for the prisoners and did not as in so much considers them negatively. However, the riot in the second day culminated in a new mindset among the guards that the prisoners looked to undermine their power and authority.
The prisoners on the other hand after a failed rebellion grew mistrustful of one another to a point where their own self respect was severely compromised. The prisoners went as far as to insult their fellow inmates upon command from the prison guards (Zimbardo, Christina and Craig 739). This implies that the laws prescribed by the society as well as the power conferred upon institutions and official position defines the degree of self respect that people in different social situations accrue to themselves. The experiment shows that prisoners in essence scorned upon by other members of society and the prisoners in full knowledge of this fact tend to demean each other. Wardens on the other hand attempt to have the perception that prisoners are simply human beings just as they are. However, subsequent situations tend to define how they relate with the prisoners. The fact that prisoners are in essence hollow souls in prison settings sanctioned by society relegates them to being inferior beings. The fact that they contend to being used randomly by those they perceive as having authority presents an interesting scenario.
In Walter Percy’s essay, he provides that the society indoctrinates into people’s mind the manner in which they should react to certain situations and more so the manner in which they expect others to react to a given situation. This is however dependent on the degree of such indoctrination (Percy 483). The fact that prisoners are led to believe their rights are suspended while in prison translates to them that they can be treated like animals. On the other hand, prison warders are always taught and expected to treat prisoners in a humane way. The awkwardness of this situation tends to allow prison warders an opportunity to corrupt their authority and power as the prisoner has no voice. As Percy provides, looking at this situation from a vantage point that allows one to observe the prisoners and the warders in the prison setting at the same instant allows for distinct conclusions to be made on the state of the society (Percy 485). The observer will come to comprehend the conflict that warders experience in an attempt to be both humane and exercise authority, prisoners subjecting themselves to ill treatment towards getting favors and the society in believing that it is doing the best to reform prisoners.
Members of society in different social situations will always perceive other members in other different situation in what the society appraises as good or evil. The prison experiment from a micro perspective indicates the prisoners as having low value to the society. Warders are also slightly above this situation by respect of their authority over the prisoners. Unfortunately, they are looked down upon by the society due to their close proximity to the prisoners and their environment. As such, role in society tend to have a distinct manner in how one perceives good and evil. This in most cases always tends to veer to the negative side.
Percy, Walker. “The loss of creature in The Message in the Bottle.” New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (1978).
Zimbardo, Philip G., Christina Maslach, and Craig Haney. “Reflections on the Stanford prison experiment: Genesis, transformations, consequences.”Obedience to authority: Current perspectives on the Milgram paradigm (2000): 193-237.