The Experiment




Theimportance of literary works cannot be underestimated as far asconveying messages regarding what is wrong with a particular socialgroup is concerned. Indeed, films, like other literary works oftenadvertently outline the ways of life of the people in a particularsociety with the aim of critiquing it and imbuing in people an idearegarding the most appropriate way to change their lives. However,there are instances where films are made in an effort to carry out astudy on the lives of people and their reaction and adaptability toparticular situations. This is the case for “”.

“TheExperiment” was a 22010 movie that revolved around an experimentressembling another one carried out in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo calledStanford prison experiment. In this movie, volunteers wouldparticipate in a psychological study where they were divided intogroups acting as inmates and prison guards. The prisoners includeMichael barriers and an arrogant anti-war protestor called Travis.Interviews are carried out where responses to different violentscenes are measured, after which 26 participants are chosen and takento an isolated building that is established as a prison, where theyare divided into 20 prisoners and 6 guards. Barris takes up the roleof a guard while Travis is a prisoner. Fundamental rules apply in theprison where the prisoners are required to consume 3 meals a day,take 30 minutes of recreation daily and remain in designated areas,while the guards are required to ensure that the prisoners adhere tothe rules and regulations of the prison while also dealingcommensurately with the transgressions within 30 minutes. Ofparticular note is the fact that the experiment was supposed to endimmediately there were indications of quitting or violence. However,if the individuals managed to align themselves to the rules for atwo-weeks period, each of them would be given a $14,000 check. Barrisis concerned that a number of guards are capable of violence, inwhich case he attempts to dissuade them from such aggression with nomuch success. Indeed, the guards become more aggressive so as to makethe prisoners adhere to the rules, after which Barris becomesincreasingly sadistic. In spite of the increasing abuse, Travismaintains his defiance, which triggers Barris’ desire to humiliatehim since it is forbidden to exact physical retribution on them.Indeed, he leads other prison guards in abducting, urinating on andshaving the head of Travis. Indeed, Barris knows that his actions areallowed and commensurate as the red light never comes on, in whichcase he assures the guards that they were behaving in an appropriatemanner. However, one guard called Bosch dissents, to which Barrisreminds him that quitting would amount to forfeiting the payment.Testament to the increasing beastly nature of the prison guards istheir reaction when Travis calls for the termination of theexperiment. At one time when Travis is being humiliated in the courseof roll call, he, followed by other prisoners, removes his shirtindicating that that the experiment should be terminated. Indeed, hejumps close to the cameras demanding the letting go of the group butis hauled down to the ground by the guards who use their sticks tochoke him. An effort by Benjy, one of the prison guards to protecthim attracts even more aggression from Barris who hits the guard inthe head. Travis is punished by being locked into a dark boiler, fromwhere he manages to escape, in spite of the infrared camera watchinghim. He escapes just in time to save another prisoner from beingraped by Chase and releases other prisoners. The prisoners attack theguards and surprisingly, Barries tries to keep them within theprecincts. It is noteworthy that Barris is no longer interested inmoney rather he concentrates on maintaining his power. This resultsin a vicious brawl between the guards and prisoners until the redlight is lit and doors opened indicating the end of the experiment.Eventually, the participants are driven home with their $14,000 checkeach in hand.

Therewere varied fundamental results of this experiment. It is worthnoting that the experiment had resulted in the internalization of theroles that the individuals had been assigned. Indeed, this is shownin the actions of the prisoners and the guards alike to each other.For instance, some prisoners such as Travis indicated that theywanted to get out of prison even if it meant forfeiting the payment,while guards such as Barris meted immense brutality on theindividuals that they perceived as their juniors within the prisonranks. For instance, they meted immense violence on Travis when hesignaled his desire to get out of the prison and terminate theexperiment, not to mention Benjy, the sympathetic prison guard whowas incarcerated and beaten mercilessly for helping the prisoners andtaking their side on varied issues.

Itis argued that the experiment showed that behavior is attributed bythe situation rather than the individual disposition or rather theinternal characteristics. This means that the behavior ofparticipants was determined by the situation in which they wererather than their personalities. It is noted that individuals oftenconform to the social roles that other people expect them to play,more so in instances where the roles are strongly stereotyped as theywere in the case of prison guards. It is noteworthy that the prisonenvironment came as a crucial factor in establishing the brutalbehavior of the prison guards. The participants who took up the rolesof the prison guards had never previously exhibited sadistictendencies prior to the study. In the Zimbardo experiment dubbed theStanford Prison experiment, a large number of individuals taking upthe role of prison guards could not believe that they had taken upsuch sadistic tendencies. Indeed, a large number of them said theyhad no prior knowledge regarding the existence of this side of themor their capability to do such things. The case was similar for theprisoners who also could not believe that they exhibited asubmissive, dependent and cowering tendency as they had. In ordinarycases, the individuals were more assertive.

Whilethe results and implications of the experiment were undoubtedlycrucial in determining the manner in which behavior is shaped, thefilm attracted numerous concerned. Indeed, this film faced a numberof ethical dilemmas, which were more or less similar to those thatthe 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment faced. First, there were concernsregarding the levels of distress and humiliation that the individualswho took up the role of prisoners experienced. Indeed, scholars havenoted that there is no way such an experiment may be sanctioned orallowed to continue today if stricter controls are not established.Scholars acknowledge that such an experiment would pose genuine risksto individuals who are predisposed to emotional and mental imbalancesas a result of the immense levels of aggression, violence andtorture. On the same note, there were concerns regarding theprovision of informed consent by the participants in the study(Zimbardo, 2007). This was especially in the case of the Stanfordexperiment where it was argued that the consent could never be fullyinformed especially considering that the researchers themselves couldnever have guessed what would have happened in the experiment(Zimbardo, 2007). This was seen as incredibly unethical especiallywhen coupled with the fact that the deficiency of sufficientknowledge regarding what would happen also meant that there wouldnever be sufficient safeguards on what happened eventually.

Inconclusion, “” was based on the Stanford PrisonExperiment where participants were divided into groups of prisonguards and prisoners. The key question that the experiment aimed atanswering was the reaction of individual in instances where they areplaced in simulated prison environments. Needless to say, the resultsof the experiment showed that personal behavior is shaped more orless by the situations in which individuals are rather than theirintrinsic characteristics. This is shown by the fact that theindividuals in the experiment took up characteristics that werecommon with individuals who worked in the roles that they played.This was even in instances where they normally showed characteristicsthat were contrary to those that the roles revolved around.


Zimbardo,P. (2007).&nbspTheLucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil.&nbspNewYork, NY: Random House.