The Mock Prison Experiment

Philip Zimbardo, an American psychologist and academic, rose to prominence as the leader and performer of the Stanford Prison Experiment. In his experiment, he recruited 24 male college students and randomly assigned them to participate in a “mock prison.” Each participant was a “guard” or “prisoner.” After only six days, the guards became brutally dictatorial, resorting to measures such as humiliation and abuse. As a result, the captives succumbed to apathy, sadness, and hopelessness. The experiment’s central message is that the situation we are placed in can significantly impact our conduct. The scenario forces us to take on a particular position, and this role affects our behavior.

What makes the experiment even more intriguing is that everyone was only acting – no actual prison, guards, or prisoners. The participants’ behavior, on the other hand, impacted their emotions such that they felt the part the instant they acted. We can also see the link between our activities and feelings here: our emotions affect our actions, and our acts influence our emotions.

The Source of Our Emotions

Many of us believe that emotions originate from our reaction to a situation. William James, a philosopher and psychologist, was true when he stated that we do not feel sorry and grieve because we have lost our money; instead, we feel ashamed because we cry. We are not upset because we were insulted and so assaulted someone; instead, we are angry. We punched someone because we were humiliated. We do not run because we are terrified when encountering a bear; instead, we become afraid because we tremble in terror. William James is expressing here that we would not sense emotion if our bodies did not respond physiologically. To claim that we feel an emotion and then our bodies react is imprecise. The opposite is also true. Our bodies react, and as a result, we experience the associated feeling.


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