The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was very much like the Stanford Prison Experiment in the sense that there were also prisoners and military guards involved. The guards inflicted physical harm towards the Iraq prisoners. They were beaten up, tortured, and traumatized up to the point wherein the prisoners were all bruised and wounded. Some could not walk or stand because they had their bones broken. They were also psychologically humiliated and sexually abused. Pictures showing the events that happened were posted in the Internet and in the newspapers and clearly, there was a sadistic behavior seen on the military guards.
Perhaps everything that happened in Abu Ghraib also occurred in Philip Zimbardo’s simulation. Of course, how all these had happened was to be blamed by the same dynamics that took place in both situations, which will be discussed later. On the other hand, the difference between the two is that the Abu Ghraib was a real event and that it was not simulated in any way. They were not assigned to fake roles, instead they were in preexisting social roles and that they have been part of each group for quite a long time prior to this incident.
There was no monetary pay that was given to those involved and nobody acted as the supervisor who could stop what they were doing at any time. Nobody could control what the guards were doing and that there could be no other means of external reinforcement coming from another entity that is not part of the groups involved. Everything was genuine, even the intentions behind the cruel and unethical treatment of the prisoners. The question that remains is that what was the reason behind this injustice and inhumane behavior that the military exhibited?
The issue that went with this was that the government blames a few members of the military with what happened. They defended that not all the US military guards behave the same as those who treated the prisoners badly. It was said that the others were just influenced by these few so everybody became involved and that the situation became uncontrollable. However, it was pointed out that the government must not only put finger at the few people that they are accusing of having bad attitudes.
It was the overall US military system and the way that they were briefed as to how to handle prisoners. It was believed that there was an existing problem with how the military guards were taught to treat the prisoners and not because their preexisting attitudes affect how they behaved. Therefore, the individuals’ personalities and attitudes could not be enough reason for this. Assuming the social role of being a military guard and following the norms and rules set by the higher authority, might be one cause for why and how this had happened.
In the case of the Stanford Prison Experiment, Philip Zimbardo divided the group of students into two groups randomly, the first one would serve the role of the prisoners and the other would be the guards. Each group was instructed to act as how these groups of people would behave in real life. The guards were given uniforms, whistles, and batons and were told to do whatever they think would be appropriate for the situation. On the other hand, the prisoners were given jail clothes and were told to follow whatever the guards will instruct them to do, as what really happens in the real prison setting.
At first, the students were adjusting to the roles that were assigned to them. However, in just a short time, they began acting just as how the prisoners and guards would behave in real life. This is the nature and dynamics of being a given a social role. A role is a set of norms or rules which a person must follow in order to behave accordingly. As we assume a new role, we start to adjust by learning the norms that come with it. But later on, we internalize and master the rules, and this manifests through our behavior.
The experiment should have ended a little later than the date it was terminated. However, the guards’ behavior went overboard and abused the power bestowed upon them. Because they were allowed to handle the prisoners as how they thought that prisoners should be treated, they gave punishments that were inhumane. They inflicted physical pain through torture and beating, and psychological pain through humiliation. The prisoners could not do anything about it because they were required to follow everything that the guards instruct them to do as a sign of respect for authority.
There was abuse and trauma, and the prisoners were clearly hurt and wounded from the tortures that they received. There was also a point when the prisoners were told that their monetary compensation for participation would not be given but they could withdraw from the experiment already. However, they were very much involved with their role and thought of themselves as real prisoners and guards, so they retained their role in the simulation. At one point, a new prisoner was introduced and as was expected, he was the only person to perceive the injustice that was being done to the prisoners.
Because of this, the guards intensified their punishment. The introduction of this novel stimulus had shown that the participants’ behaviors have indeed strengthened despite the sudden disruption. It later came to the point that not even the researchers could control the situation and so they had to completely stop the whole experiment upon Zimbardo’s realization that it was unethical. Aside from the internalization of roles, group influences also reinforced the behavior of the participants in the experiment. In a group, people experience deindividuation or the loss of sense of self.
This is because individual identity is lost in a group and whatever each person is doing would be automatically reflected as a movement of the whole group. These people who belong in a group could easily follow a group norm because there is the feeling of self-assurance because of their large number, a sense of physical anonymity, and the arousing stimuli that trigger or distract the whole group. There is also a loss of self-awareness because since they are a part of a group, they perceive themselves as a part of one entity and this enables the people to do things that are out of their character.
This is the reason why some people in a group do things that they would not normally do if they were alone. This experiment also showed that behavior could determine attitudes. In this case, the participants justified what they have done by accepting to themselves that it was the right thing to do even if originally, they would not have agreed that this situation was ethical. Because they were already acting according to their roles, they would have to change their attitudes toward that kind of treatment.
Likewise, there was strong evidence showing the power of authority and what it could do given strict implementations. It also showed the extent to which those who are part of the authority could abuse their power over others. In my case, if ever I would be a part of this kind of experiment, I would have behaved just like what was exhibited by the previous participants. I could not exactly commit to myself by saying that I would control myself because situations are sometimes more powerful than disposition or my own personality.