A group gives each of its members an identity and a role. Group identity gives an individual improved self-esteem, confidence level and sense of belonging. The individual is also socially and culturally influenced by the group.
This study was conducted in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University, California, along with a group of researchers. It was a dramatic simulation of prison life conducted to study the behavior of good people when placed in an evil setting, to learn if humanity would prevail over evil or vice versa, etc. (Zimbardo). The independent variable in the study was the conditions the participants were assigned, the dependent variable being their consequent behavior (Haney, Banks and Zimbardo). The study was stopped halfway through due to the grim effects seen in the participants where the "guards" had become sadistic and the "prisoners" extremely depressed.
The experiment was funded by the US Navy with a view to study the causes of conflict between the guards and prisoners in the naval prisons. Up until then, there was a belief that the guards entered their jobs with a "guard mentality" and were basically sadistic and insensitive whereas the prisoners were aggressive people with no respect for law. The study, however, disproved this dispositional hypothesis. Though the participants knew that they were part of a study, from the moment the "prisoners" were caught and arrested unawares from their homes and from the moment the "guards" were initiated into their roles a day before the prisoners were brought in, the participants fell so perfectly into their roles and they were affected by them so much that they seemed to believe in their assigned roles or positions. The participants were not preconditioned on their form of interactions and were free to interact in any way. Yet, their "encounters tended to be negative, hostile, insulting and dehumanizing" (Haney, Banks and Zimbardo). The negative emotions showed that the participants, both the prisoners and the guards, had internalized the situation or that they had started to believe in the situation. Though physical violence was strictly not allowed, forms of less direct aggressive behavior were noted.
Another instance where the participants' internalization was evidenced was when five of the prisoners had to be released due to extreme depression. Though the prisoners were fully aware that they were only playing a role and could quit the study if they so wished, only two of the rest were ready to forfeit their earnings in consideration of "parole." When the study was terminated earlier than planned, the prisoners were delighted while the guards were disappointed. This was because the guards had grown to enjoy the power that they now held. Even the "prison officials," meaning the research team, had started behaving in a manner they thought was befitting the roles they played. The styles of responding to and coping with the new situation differed from individual to individual. While a few prisoners had to be released, a few endured the atmosphere. While some guards were "tough but fair, some went far beyond their roles to engage in creative cruelty and harassment" (Haney, Banks and Zimbardo). The preliminary personality tests done on the participants had not predicted this manner of a behavior