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Does Power Corrupt Everyone Equally? Lessons from the Stanford Prison Experiment

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From Stanford Prison Experiment
Stanford Prison Experiment
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The standard story, given by the experimenter Phillip Zimbardo, is that the experiment is a lesson about how everyday people (and groups consisting of everyday people), when given too much power, can become sadistic tyrants. In a recent article for The New Yorker, Maria Konnikova casts some doubt on that conclusion, arguing that the real lesson is the power of institutions to shape behavior, and how people are shaped by those preexisting expectations.

While this is certainly a valuable lesson, I believe another crucial variable at play—rarely mentioned by commentators of the prison experiment or even in psychology textbooks—is the person. Yes, power corrupts. But power does not corrupt everyone equally.

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Natylie Baldwin is co-author of Ukraine: Zbig's Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated, available from Tayen Lane Publishing. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications including Sun Monthly, Dissident Voice, (more...)

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