In 1971 Professor Zimbardo set up the now infamous Stanford Prison Experiment.
Students were separated into prisoners and guards. To see the impact these roles would have.
Zimbardo watched to see what they would do…
Zimbardo was shocked by what happened next. In fact, the two week experiment had to shut down after six days. Guards become sadistic. Prisoners became depressed.
ROBERT J SAWYER’S latest science fiction book Quantum Night peeks behind the curtain at Zimbardo’s experiment. At real life prison and guard situations since. And then as such violence increases, why they could occur…
It caught my eye because my play, Random 12 is a modern retelling of the Stanford Prison Experiment. If the experiment was repeated now – the same thing wouldn’t happen. Would it?
A Professor, who’d studied as a researcher under Zimbardo, wrote to me after seeing the play. He said Random 12 was closer to the spirit of the original experiment than anything he’d read or seen.
What’s REALLY interesting is what I learned, behind the scenes, whilst we were performing the play.
- A psychological thriller – the darkness within and what we’re all capable of (if put into different roles) – created a real buzz. The show sold out. It created exciting audience discussions – heated too.
- Uniforms – the impact they had on the actors. Both to those who wear them and those
who react to them. As soon as the actors started wearing them they walked differently. Spoke differently. Seemed more confident. And had less to do with the ‘prisoners’.
- The prisoners… were isolated from the guards. More subdued. But became very close.
- The bond – particularly after the show ended. As if we’d truly been through something together.
Psychology – why we act the way we do – is the heart of good writing. It fascinates me. And as a reader, I love books that explore the darker side of our nature – as well as the good.