Monday, August 8, 2011

Studies on Human Behavior Part 2:

I'm back, hopefully a few people noticed :) Sorry for the long time since writing and no excuses will be given other than one word, thesis.

In the second study on human behavior I chose the Stanford Prison Experiment. I will not give all the details here but for information on it please refer to this link. In a nutshell Phillip Zimbardo, in 1971, wanted to expand upon the the Milgram study that we discussed last week. Zimbardo decided that prison guards and inmates would be a good place to look to see how humans behave in stressful situations. So, he had 24 participants half guards and half prisoners. The guards gained to much power and became inhumane and abusive and so the study ended in six days rather than the scheduled 14 days. Many of the prisoners began to show signs of extreme stress and anxiety. Five of the prisoners began to experience problems that they were released from the study even sooner than the 6 days. Keep in mind that these participants were Stanford students with no criminal behavior, lacked psychological issues and had no major medical conditions.

So another study showing how human behavior under extreme pressures can cause humans to do things that they normally would never do. I think that this study also shows what happens to people that are put into adverse situations (prisoners) and what will happen to them and how short a time it takes (only 6 days some less) for them to break down. This also makes me think of "hardened" criminals. How do they withstand the same psychological breakdown, or do they?

Our characters need to have something that keeps them from breaking. Is it their inner resolve to do what is right? Are they supported by others? Are they slowly immersed in the situation so that they become used to it (the crab in boiling water)? What makes them so resilient when the vast majority of us would break? or do they break and because of that break does it change them forever due to guilt, resolve to do better etc.?

Let me know what you think.


  1. I have heard about the inmate/guard scenario before but I have never thought about applying it to my characters before. I think that depending on the character depends on how they are able to withstand the situation. I love the idea of putting the characters in similar situations and showing how they come through differently.

    I think a good example of this is Harry and Neville. They are in similar situations and they come through it in different ways but both are successful.

  2. most def esp if we are going to put them into high pressure situations and if they dont have it we need to consider the affects it should have on them and write it accordingly

  3. I remember writing my thesis. *shudders* It was rough going to a few months! I do know the high pressure situations making people do things they normally wouldn't. If our characters break then chaos ensues (Lord of the Flies, anyone?).

  4. These human experiments sound all very inhumane! Glad I wasn't the guinea pig for those!

  5. Human experiments are all very well but some are inhuman.


  6. I hadn't heard of this study before. It sounds like it was extremely stressful for those involved . . .

    Great questions about characters.

  7. In the story I'm currently writing, my character is tortured with a whip and the bastinado. Though she cries out in pain, she doesn't give in to her captors. The way I found to get around it is she is ex-military and had attended SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape) school during her service. She would have had the training to deal with it because of that. I have friends who actually did attend the school or taught in it so I have some idea how it works. That makes my character's ability to withstand torture more believable. Plus I read a book about a British female spy that was captured in WWII and she never did talk despite eventually being tortured to death.


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