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Prison Experiment

by on September 22, 2014

Many experiments have been done with human beings to determine how they respond in given social situations. One such experiment was done by a researcher named Zimbardo. He conducted many experiments on human behavior

The Prison experiment can be briefly explained thus: Young men, college students, were chosen and agreed to participate in the experiment. Some of them were “guards” and the others were “prisoners.”

The “prisoners’ were arrested, searched, booked, dressed in prison garb and given identification numbers instead of names. “Guards” were given uniforms, whistles, clubs and sunglasses.

The “guards” soon began treating the “prisoners” with disrespect and emotional (not physical) abuse. Several of the “prisoners” had to be released after just a few days because they were crying, confused and depressed. The experiment (which was to continue for several weeks) was discontinued after six days.

The roles assigned to these students became their reality in a very short time. Power (or the lack of power) and role began to dictate behavior. “Guards” who showed kindness to “prisoners” were pressured by the other “guards” to cooperate and be “guards.”

These roles and behaviors are found in real life. Persons of power control and manipulate persons without power. Unfortunately this is also found in churches. This should not be true. Persons familiar with the Bible and led by the Holy Spirit of God are called to express the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit of God. For them to use their power to abuse fellow believers is unacceptable and unconscionable

Some of these powerful persons are simply malicious and eager to use their power to harm and control, but many of them are quite well-meaning. Many believe that what they are doing right and necessary. Their methods, however, are typically harmful. They miss the Biblical injunction to blend truth and mercy and thus they present an unbalanced message of leadership.

Social sciences are quite revealing but, they should not be able to explain a Holy Spirit directed Church.

Be careful about the use of power and influence. It can be helpful or it can be very destructive. Jesus said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.
“Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.

Matthew 20:25-26

Note: Descriptions (and evaluations) of these and other social experiments are quite available in textbooks and on the web. Exposure to these studies totally changed my life. To know and see sinful tendencies played out, opened my eyes to the evils of the human heart and behavior. It also showed me the social pressures to conform even in harmful situations. The “guards” were just as controlled by the system as were the “prisoners.” So, the “guards” was also prisoners of the social system in which they functioned.

It is so easy to be pulled into a system that allows power to be abused. Be careful. Remember this experiment.
Most of all, remember the words of Jesus.

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