Sunday, March 6, 2011

When mankind really means mankind

I watched a DVD the other day called "The Experiment". It was a very interesting (not for the weak stomached) movie based on a famous study done in 1971 called The Standford Prison Experiment, in which a group of students representing 'average people' were placed in a simulation prison environment, with some of the subjects are given the role of guards and the rest are given the role of prisoners. Despite the fact that test subjects were chosen for their apparent mental stability, within 6 days of commencing, the experiment had to be shut down due to the increasingly sadistic behaviour of the 'guards' and trauma of the 'prisoners'. Even the leading scientist, Philip Zambardo, who had taken on the role of superintendent had lost moral reasoning (this is in the actual study, not the movie).
Criticisms of this study include the obvious lack in ethical standards, the fact that it did not accurately represent true prison environment, and also claims that Zambardo biased the 'guards' to act in an abusive manner.
My criticism, to add to the list, is that the entire group were all males. This experiment is repeatedly referred to as a glimpse at the darker side of human nature. Human nature. How can this possibly accurately reflect the true nature of humans when it has completely marginalised half of all humankind. (not to mention that almost all participants were middle-class and white, so really it was an extremely narrow look at 'humans')
Do I think that if it was done with all women it would be a lovely experience? No. I certainly don't think that women are devoid of hurtful tendencies or are uninfluenced by power. Do I think that the results would be exactly the same? No way.

Sidenote: The original Stanford Prison Experiment was shut down due to moral objections by Zambardo's then girlfriend, Christina Maslach. She was the first of 50 people who witnessed the study to openly question the ethics of continuing. Possibly she was only listened to because of her relationship with Zambardo.

I have no idea how an experiement like this would play out if conducted with, all or part, women. I couldn't even begin to speculate. But I absolutely object to being excluded from 'humankind'.

From now on, I would appreciate if anyone wishing to make comment on the nature of humans would study more than just one sex... and one culture, and one colour, in one country.

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