Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

01 Nov 2001, 10:44 a.m.

Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram went to the same high…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram went to the same high school. Also, a band exists entitled "Stanford Prison Experiment."

One reason I was poking around for information relating to Zimbardo: I've recently started using the phrase, "Because I know you're a nice guy," and Leonard and I figured out last night why it creeps him out. In a video ("Quiet Rage") about the Stanford Prison Experiment, a student who had played a prisoner conversed with a student (nicknamed "John Wayne") who had played a guard, and been the most vicious. After the experiment:

"Prisoner 416": "It let me in on some knowledge that I've never experienced first hand. I've read about it, I've read a lot about it, but I've never experienced it first hand, I've never seen someone first hand turn that way. And, I know you're a nice guy, you know."
"John Wayne": "You don't know that."
416: "You understand, I do, I do know you're a nice guy."
John Wayne: "Then why?"
416: "I don't, I say that because I know what you can turn into, I know what you're willing to do if you say, oh, well, I'm not going to hurt anybody, oh, well, it's a limited situation, or it's over in 2 weeks."
John Wayne: "Well, if you were in that position, what would you have done?"
416: "I don't know. But I think, if I were a guard, I wouldn't have been quite so imaginative. I wouldn't have applied quite as much creativity to it as you did. I would have played the role, I wouldn't have made it such a masterpiece."

John Wayne had been really sadistic, especially towards 416. And so you can hear the bitterness (there's a link to a RealPlayer video of the conversation here) that the ex-prisoner's trying not to let through in his voice. He exaggerates a bright, cheery tone. And it comes through the most when he says, "And I know you're a nice guy." So that's why it's creepy.

As it turns out, the person who stopped the experiment by pointing out to Zimbardo its inhumanity later married him. Imagine if it hadn't been his girlfriend who told him! They had a big fight over it! Would the experiment have continued for another eight days, finishing up the planned two-week run? Would someone have died?