The British social psychologists, professors Alex Haslam and Steve Reicher, have put together a wonderful, resource-packed website that documents the science and issues behind their BBC Prison Study conducted and broadcast in 2001/2002.
Rather like Zimbardo's classic Stanford Prison Experiment, Reicher and Haslam's BBC Prison Study involved ordinary participants being split into groups of prisoners and guards.
However, whereas Zimbardo gave his guards leadership, inspiring them to dominance over their prisoners, Haslam and Reicher deliberately stood back from proceedings, to see whether and how the two groups of participants would organise themselves. They also made a number of interventions - for example introducing a new prisoner with real-life trades-union experience -to see how issues of leadership and group identity would affect the behaviour of the participants and their respective groups.
Reicher and Haslam's study goes beyond the idea that ordinary people can sometimes commit atrocious acts in certain circumstances, and aims instead to find out when and why groups descend into tyranny and when and why they draw together to resist oppression and authoritarianism.
The new website features clips and images from the original BBC broadcast; an accessible account of the main findings and their theoretical implications; as well as free downloads of many of the scientific articles and magazine features that have flowed from the Study.
All in all it's a marvellous new resource for students, teachers, lecturers and anyone interested in social psychology.
Link to new website for BBC Prison Study.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.