Ethics and morality occupy an essential place in the life of society. These concepts were formed many centuries ago and remain essential to this day. Ethics is of particular importance in the field of criminal law. This is due to the fact that it is in this area of society that the rights and legitimate interests of citizens can be violated most often. Thus, in the process of criminal legislation, as in other spheres of public life, legal norms and ethical norms serve as an aspect of regulating people’s behavior and a means of organizing their relationships. This paper presents an examination of the ethics of the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Stanford Prison Experiment
One of the most striking examples of an experiment that raises the question of ethical principles is the Stanford Prison Experiment. This is a psychological experiment conducted in 1971 by the American psychologist Philip Zimbardo (McLeod, 2017). It consisted of a psychological analysis of how a person will react to the restriction of freedom by being placed in a prison institution and how the role imposed on the prisoner will affect behavior. The participants of this experiment were college students who applied for an ad in the newspaper. In addition, people were playing the role of guards. All participants were placed in a specially created prison in the building of the Department of Psychology. The main task of Zimbardo’s psychological research was to show how receptivity and submission are manifested in people with a specific and justified ideology that is supported by society and the state.
The ethics of this study still does not have exact proof. On the one hand, one of the principles of conducting such studies has been fulfilled. Each student independently agreed to participate in the experiment and knew what it was; thereby, informed consent was observed. For ethics, the researcher must tell the subjects all the information about the study. Pan (2020) emphasizes that “it is important that persons involved in the research must be compliant with the ethical framework in which they should function” (p. 349). This is due to the fact that if the participants are not fully acquainted with the experiment, the responsibility of the researcher additionally increases.
Despite informing the consent of young people, one of the principles of ethics was still violated. This is the principle of humanity, respect, and protection of the rights of the individual. In this case, the prominent researcher must protect the participants from physical and mental discomfort, harm, and danger. However, in the Stanford campaign of the experiment, sadistic tendencies were found in some guards, which led to strong moral and physical traumatization of the subjects. In this case, the teacher of the study is obliged to take all possible measures to minimize harm to people. In addition, it is necessary to calculate in advance the possibility of aggression and violence by the participants since this may cause disapproval of conducting the study in the first place.
Moreover, ethical principles require that the researcher treats the rights of the subjects with respect. This applies to such aspects as reducing or completely interrupting participation in the experiment at any time. Thus, two participants decided to leave Stanford prison ahead of the set time with a particularly obvious manifestation of violence and moral pressure. Ethically correct research should be based on the establishment of a clear and fair agreement between the researcher and the participant. The first is obliged to honor all the promises and agreements included in the consent of the interested parties.
Thus, it can be concluded that not all the experiments carried out on people are of an ethical nature. In addition, there are many examples when a scientist is faced with the problem of passion and accepts the people being tested as experimental subjects. This is exactly what happened during the Stanford Prison Experiment. Such experiments expose their participants to the danger of moral and physical harm. However, many scientists conducting such studies justify their actions by the premise of studying an acute general problem.
The ambiguity of Zimbardo’s prison research is based on the ethical problem of choosing between individual rights and what society needs. Because of this ambiguity, many scientists do not pay attention to the unethical processes occurring during their studies. They may also hold the view that ethical control stops the development of science. The Stanford Prison Experiment is a clear example of a researcher justifying unethical actions. In addition, the results of this experiment showed what impact a particular situation could have on people’s behavior, despite the fact that completely different personality traits initially characterized them. On the other hand, a general opinion about this teaching has not yet been formed due to the fact that some principles were observed, and some were cruelly missed. This experiment shows how an unhealthy passion of a scientist for his work can lead to a loss of control over the situation.
McLeod, S. (2017). Stanford prison experiment. Simply Psychology.
Pan, P. (2020). Ethics in research and publication. Journal of Indian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, 25(6), 349-351.