True Horror Stories, Part 3

I’m starting to think that the horror to my readers comes from the fact that they’ve been exposed to the same topic in 3 consecutive Saturdays! Haha, no worries. I promise that today’s entry will mark the last one in the set, and from next week onwards the topic will be very different.

But the reason why there is a Part 3 to this horror chronicle is that there is this one last story I want to share which I find just as interesting as the rest. Now we all know that Stanford University is a great institution. Everyone in there is a researcher, and it snags all those Nobel Prizes. But did you know that amidst the crowd of intellectuals and civilised benefactors to society lies a deep, dark rotting secret in the school’s history?

Have you heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment?

In 1971, a group of psychology students, led by Professor Philip Zimbardo, did a study on deindividuation. They basically recruited students to a mock prison environment and randomly assigned them to be either prisoners or guards, and they had to remain in the same space for 1 or 2 weeks. But guess what, the experiment was forced to end after 6 days! Just what happened?

It turns out that the people got too much into character. The guards began abusing the prisoners both physically and mentally, and the prisoners somehow got into their role too, thinking of themselves as powerless to resist. They helped the guards bully other prisoners, or became withdrawn and emotionally unstable. 2 of the prisoners pulled out of the study because they were being treated like animals, forced to eat their own dung and other such gory behaviours. And even the experimenters allowed this abuse to continue! It seems to me that mankind has always been degenerate. All the participants in the study had been tested and found to be psychologically stable at the beginning, and yet they became beasts in a mere matter of days. Can we ever trust anybody in power?

One point to note about the study is that all the participants were male. Maybe the result would be different if there were ladies, or maybe not (I don’t want to dwell on the idea of sexual harassment). Ladies have generally been regarded as people who “tend and befriend”, but will they do so at the risk of breaking out of their role?

Some of us may have seen videos of American soldiers mistreating the terrorist prisoners in their custody. Is it always the case that guards will abuse their prisoners? Maybe this is why people are said to become “different” after they have been promoted to become superiors; the power “gets into their heads”. This seems to imply, whether we want to face it or not, that all of us have the potential to become cruel and inhuman. I tend to believe that humans are bad by nature. We have to be taught to do good deeds because most of us will degrade to become jerks otherwise. Self-discipline is not something we’re born with.

And look at all the violent acts reported in the news. Are our Civics classes doing enough? I don’t remember learning much of my values from Civics; I learned them from inspirational videos and tales that I read elsewhere. Maybe teachers lack the conviction needed to sincerely coax pupils towards benevolence. Maybe a classroom setting isn’t the right idea to impart behavioural traits. I’m sure the government will appreciate any ideas or suggestions you have, so write a letter to the nearest news press today.


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