|Bachelor Ben and his ladies.|
Thirty-one years later, the first episode of "The Bachelor" was aired on ABC. During the show, twenty-five single women compete for the affections of one man (with the reverse in "The Bachelorette") as they travel to scenic destinations, ride in lots of helicopters and boats, and enjoy lavish accommodations. What could the Stanford Prison Experiment possibility have to do with a fun, light-hearted reality show? A lot, it turns out.
1. The leaders. In the name of entertainment (or science), things sometimes go too far. Chris Harrison, The Bachelor's host, has controversially been known to let destructive situations (i.e., Bentley) take their course, rather than intervening on behalf of contestants or the bachelor/bachelorette. Similarly, Zimbardo was criticized for not intervening sooner when participants were clearly suffering psychological distress. Like his participants, he may have been caught up in the power of the situation. Zimbardo's girlfriend was the one to urge the researchers put a stop to the experiment, when she saw how inhumane the prisoners were being treated (no one has put a stop to the Bachelor yet).
2. The conditions. Both the Bachelor and the prison require contestants/participants to isolate themselves from trusted friends, family, and communities, temporarily giving up their usual identities and daily activities and finding themselves in an unfamiliar, disorienting setting. The Stanford prisoners were required to stay in small cells all day and night, while the contestants are confined to fancier suites, but still likely driven stir-crazy. As the contestants/participants become more and more disconnected from the outside world, they in turn become increasingly dependent on the norms and expectations of the new environment, which in both cases are clearly not the healthiest. From an outside perspective, it's hard to imagine why anyone would voluntarily stay in an environment that makes them so miserable. What we forget is that this new environment has quickly become their whole world, and they - understandably - want to succeed (or at least survive) in it.
The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo
Stanford Prison Experiment (youtube)
Miller, G. (2011). Using the Psychology of Evil To Do Good Science, 332 (6029), 530-532 DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6029.530