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Ethics in research

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Of Zimbardo’s 1971 Experiment Today’s Research Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 Experiment can no longer be conducted once again, especially in today’s world. Many things change since 1971. It has been four decades now since such experiment was systematically performed within the walls of Stanford University. Whatever the intentions the organizers had, certainly the people of today — either professional psychologists or laymen — will not permit such disturbing and inhumane approach of laboratory experiment. Human beings are people with feelings and thoughts; as such, it is unreasonably to test or experiment human being in the manner characterized in Zimbardo’s experiment. If animals other than man — what is known to us as the lower form of life — are defended and fought by animal activists, how much more for the higher form of life! In general, the modern man no longer accepts any type of experiment done to the human race. Lesson from the Experiment In spite of the horrible nature of Zimbardo’s experiment, there are several things that we can get (i. e., as lessons) from such laboratory experiment. Most fundamental to the experiment is the shocking revelation pertaining to truth — or parcel of truth — on the nature of man: Is man inherently evil? The participants in the 1971 experiment, especially those who played as jail officers, showed a strange character upon portraying their designated “ role.” Prior to the experiment, these participants — as University students — are reasonable and sensible individuals, doing their academic tasks in order to attain an honorable degree. In the course of the experiment, however, good guys became bad guys. The “ jail officers” exhibited sadistic behavior towards their “ prisoners.” In essence, this is surprising because of their inhumane or, if you may, “ uncivilized” action or reaction against the perplexed prisoners. End and Means To a modern mind, the end does not justify the means. That is far from the concept of man as a rational and emotional being. Machiavelli’s philosophy seems to ring true, at least to a dictatorial type of government, but in the society or world that fosters democracy and freedom — no matter how ideal they may sound — torture of whatever nature or form is not acceptable. Zimbardo’s 1971 experiment is a form of torture both physical and psychological. And to torture a human being is never justifiable, no matter how great the lesson we get from it. Lessons or knowledge about the human nature — of whether we are inherently evil or not — can be known in other means or approach that is more humane and sensible. Process of Deciding In interpreting Zimbardo’s 1971 experiment, I have used heavily my intuition as a person — that is, of modern understanding concerning society and man. I think that the people behind the experiment, not just Dr. Zimbardo, have use “ reason” in conducting their experiment. For one thing, they did not expect that the end-result will be devastating and destructive, especially in the part of the prisoner-participants. Naive they may seem to us in our the present-day reading/interpretation, surely they have “ good” reason why such experimenters/psychologists had done what they did. Past is past, as they say. Nonetheless, the modern-day people should guard themselves, or ourselves, against any experiment that involves a human being — no matter how good the intentions are.

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