Level of education plays a role in obedience studies, albeit a weak one. In Milgram's study, the more well-educated subjects were more resistant in the baseline experiment. On the other hand in the famous Zimbardo prison simulation study, most of the subjects were college students who, in this mock prison setting, easily fell into unquestioned social roles that resulted in harm to some of the participants (Zimbardo, 2007). Clearly education is only one of many factors that may play a role in resistance.
Professor Zimbardo’s lecture to a packed auditorium was exceptionally thought-provoking; it dealt extensively with the Stanford Prison Experiment as well as the Abu Ghraib incidents. The lecture featured many photos of the shocking and disgusting Abu Ghraib episodes, photos to which only Zimbardo had exclusive access early in the government investigation. After the misconduct came to light, Zimbardo was given extensive access to military documents in order to piece together how and why the incidents took place.
In a new book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (Random House), Zimbardo makes the case that “bad apples” aren’t to blame for evils at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere: he argues that extreme situations and the systems that create them—“bad barrels”—lead ordinary people to behave in horrid ways.
The guards' behavior was even more disturbing. All flexed their power to one degree or another. They made the prisoners obey trivial, often inconsistent rules and forced them to perform tedious, pointless work, such as moving cartons from one closet to another or continuously picking thorns out of blankets (an unpleasant task the guards created by dragging the blankets through thorny bushes). The inmates were made to sing songs or laugh or stop smiling on command; to curse and malign one another publicly; to clean out toilets with their bare hands. They were required to sound off their numbers repeatedly and to do endless push-ups, occasionally with a guard's foot or that of another prisoner on their backs.
Zimbardo assigned each subject to be a prisoner or guard by flipping a coin. There were no measurable personality differences between the two groups when the experiment began. Zimbardo played the role of warden himself. The researchers were initially concerned that subjects wouldn't take the experiment seriously enough.
Without room for individual identities, Zimbardo and colleagues reasoned that the social roles of prisoner and guard would be the dominant influence on behavior and allow participants to behave in ways that would otherwise be unimaginable to them. Zimbardo and his team of researchers used newspaper ads to recruit volunteers to participate in a two-week-long “prison simulation” in exchange for payment of $15 per day.
The major results of the study can be summarized as: many of the normal, healthy mock prisoners suffered such intense emotional stress reactions that they had to be released in a matter of days; most of the other prisoners acted like zombies totally obeying the demeaning orders of the guards; the distress of the prisoners was caused by their sense of powerlessness induced by the guards who began acting in cruel, dehumanizing and even sadistic ways. The study was terminated prematurely because it was getting out of control in the extent of degrading actions being perpetrated by the guards against the prisoners - all of whom had been normal, healthy, ordinary young college students less than a week before.
The Stanford Prison Experiment extended that analysis to demonstrate the surprisingly profound impact of institutional forces on the behavior of normal, healthy participants. Philip Zimbardo, PhD, and his research team of Craig Haney, Curtis Banks, David Jaffe, and ex convict consultant, Carlo Prescott (Zimbardo, Haney, Banks, & Jaffe, 1973) designed a study that separated the usual dispositional factors among correctional personnel and prisoners from the situational factors that characterize many prisons. They wanted to determine what prison-like settings bring out in people that are not confounded by what people bring into prisons. They sought to discover to what extent the violence and anti-social behaviors often found in prisons can be traced to the "bad apples" that go into prisons or to the "bad barrels" (the prisons themselves) that can corrupt behavior of even ordinary, good people.
The Stanford prison experiment was supposed to last two weeks but was ended abruptly just six days later, after a string of mental breakdowns, an outbreak of sadism and a hunger strike. "The first day they came there it was a little prison set up in a basement with fake cell doors and by the second day it was a real prison created in the minds of each prisoner, each guard and also of the staff," said Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist leading the experiment.
Prisoner Mr Ramsey felt the experiment should never have taken place as it had no true scientific basis and was ethically wrong. "The best thing about it, is that it ended early," he said. "The worst thing is that the author, Zimbardo, has been rewarded with a great deal of attention for 40 years so people are taught an example of very bad science."