The article Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a Lesson in the Power of Situation written by professor Zimbardo provides an overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment and explores the power of the situation over human nature. The article gives an insight into the experiment that took place in 1971, and was terminated after 6 days, even though it was initially planned to last 2 weeks. After the choking discoveries in the Milgram experiment on the power of authority, Philip Zimbardo decides to conduct an experiment on the power of the situation. Zimbardo was keen to discover how people react when they are placed in a situation where they have the power on the one side (guards), and on the other side when they are stripped of their individuality and referred to as numbers. After adapting basement of Stanford University in prison, Zimbardo brought young, smart college students and using randomization divided them into prisoners and guards (Zimbardo, 2007). According to Zimbardo (2007), the goal of the experiment was, "I wanted to know who wins -- good people or an evil situation -- when they were brought into confrontation" (p. 2). The results from the experiments indicated that the situation dominates over the human nature and the behavior is liable to changes when placed in a different surrounding.
Bearing on mind the fact that Zimbardo as a prison superintended could not control the situation in the simulated prison, it is difficult to obtain any scientifically proved evidence. The only thing that can be concluded for sure it that in when placed in described situation people tend to adjust to the given surrounding and psychologically humiliate people who are beneath them. According to Zimbardo (2007, "The situation won; humanity lost" (p. 5). Even though Zimbardo conducted this experiment in 1971, it did not reduce the occurrence of this type of torture and the use of power in the future. All psychologists are referring to the Nazi German and the murdering of millions of Jews in hope that this will never happen again. However, the history has proved the opposite. The modern history has witnessed the methods used to humiliate and to "break" a prisoner during the war in Vietnam, and most recently in Iraq in the Abu Ghraib prison. Abu Ghraib prison was the former prison of Sadam Hussein. This prison was used during the war in Iraq (2004) as a USA prison. The images that appeared about the torture that prisoners in Abu Graib were experiencing chocked the world. This did not differ from the Stanford Experiment from 1971. The situation ruled and the majority of good people decided to turn their heads on the other side. Why is this constantly happening and have we not learnt anything from the past?
When comparing the situation in Stanford experiment with the situation from Abu Ghraib, many similarities can be noticed. The first similarity relates to the setting, the prison. The second similarity is directed to the situation, in each case there are guards and prisoners. The guards are obeying the rules, and try not to overstep their given rights. Therefore, they read between the lines and use small, but effective bypasses to torture and dehumanize detainees. The situation takes control over the guards, and all the negative feelings, all the rage that they have is directed towards the prisoners.
On the other hand, there are differences in these two situations. The major difference reflects on the influence of the guards. In the experiment, the guards and the prisoners when could withdraw from the study whenever they wanted. The guards in Abu Ghraib were doing it as a part of their job. The images taken in Abu Graib suggest that the guards were entertaining themselves by treating the prisoners as "animals" and that was not in the description of their job.
The result of both situations could have ended differently if the the law explained and forbade this type of torture. Even though they did not break the law, the moral and ethical conduct and treatment of prisoners was endangered. If they had strict rules on how to behave towards the prisoners they would have reacted differently. On the other side, even though the observers in both cases knew and acknowledges that this was happening in their prisons, they did not bear any consequence. In this, one cannot but notice the similarity with the crimes committed during the WW II. The chain of command is strictly defined, and if a superior sees that something horrible is happening, he should reach immediately or otherwise bear the responsibility.
In conclusion, Zimbardo warns the society on the main culprits of this type of behavior in the prison situation. Zimbardo (2007) states that "behind the power of the situation is the greater power of the system" (p. 8). If the system does not turn its head on the other way when something like this is happening, then it means that it is morally right thing to do. Additionally, one cannot underestimate the power of political ideologies and propaganda that the state is having over people. All of that emerges in stressful situation and people tend to do things that they usually would not. We can debate about these situations, but the fact that remains is that we do not know how we would react if placed in a similar surrounding.
Zimbardo, Philip G. (2007) Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a Lesson in the Power of Situation. The Chronicle of Higher Education 53.30 .Academic OneFile. Web. 11 June 2014.