While defending Stanly Milgram’s research to understand how ordinary people could follow authority to commit heinous acts in Nazi Germany by condemning the critics for rejecting Milgram’s conclusions, Phillip Zimbardo shirked a lesson that could have helped him to avoid harsh criticism for his own research methods and ethics. Zimbardo (1972; 2007) conducted controversial research into the human capacity for evil by exploring how roles and group membership shape social behavior.
Zimbardo locked students in a makeshift prison built in the basement of a Stanford University building to see how randomly assigned roles of prisoner and guard would influence their behavior. With Zimbardo playing an active role as prison warden (Reicher & Haslam, 2006), the experiment quickly devolved into a physically and psychologically abusive situation for the prisoners. Initially resisting, the prisoners became passively compliant individuals struggling for survival without concern for others.