Is Capitol Hill Dysfunction Reminiscent of the Stanford Prison Experiment?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Many Americans were frustrated with Congress's inability to agree on a debt reduction plan up until the final moments before the August 2 deadline. As Congressional Democrats and Republicans refused to cooperate, their in-fighting was threatening the economy and holding the American public hostage, helpless to take action. We wondered if there were any parallels between the situation on Capitol Hill and the Stanford Prison Experiment, a simulation study on the psychology of imprisonment that took place at Stanford University in the summer of 1971. So we consulted some of the people involved in that experiment.

Dr. Craig Haney, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was one of the graduate students who devised the experiment. He joins us, along with Dave Eshleman, who played a guard in the experiment and now owns a mortgage company.


Dave Eshleman and Craig Haney,

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [3]


I am equally reminded of this psychological study on leadership and lying:

The post-truth era: dishonesty and deception in contemporary life By Ralph Keyes

"In a study of preschoolers, Keating found that those who could drink salted Kool-Aid, then persuade a group of grown-ups it was yummy were the ones who later emerged as leaders among their peers. This was true of boys and girls alike."

At least in this study, the conclusion might be, good liars can be good leaders.

So, how many of our legislative "leaders" are equally good liars?

And given that they are "leaders among their peers", what does that say about our tolerance of being told what we want to hear rather than the truth - as in "Mondale v Reagan" for example?

Aug. 29 2011 04:45 PM
Heroic Imagination from San Francisco, CA

As part of HIP's week-long commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Stanford Prison Experiment, Dr. Zimbardo is making personal, first-hand observations daily at:

Aug. 17 2011 10:33 PM

This is a ridiculous comparison because in Congress today there is shared power between the political parties.
The time for this cute comparison was in the last two years when the Democrats had super majorities in the Congress and Senate and control of the White House and rammed though legislation while defaming, deriding, demonizing and denouncing their opposition.
But that doesn't suit your political narrative, does it?
The US Constitution deliberately designed the system to be one of opposition and conflict in government which actually secures liberty.
There are nations that have a conflict free and smooth running government and they are called dictatorships and oligarchies and the societies they manage truly do resemble prisons.

Aug. 11 2011 08:46 AM

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