Research Ethics When Using Human SubjectsResearch Paper

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¶ … Zimbardo Prison Experiment and the Robbers Cave Experiment. For both cases, a total of five questions will be answered. Those questions include the ethical principles that are at issue in each case, the strategies that were used to insure the standards of ethical research, whether those strategies were successful, what alternate strategies might have been useful in light of what did happen so as to garner better results and which case study is a better implementation of research ethics and why. While the creators of both experiments surely had the best of intentions, one of the case studies was clearly done better and more ethically from a research standpoint than the other.

Questions Answered

Zimbardo Prison Experiment

In terms of ethics and procedure, the Zimbardo experiment seemed to have started off alright. Everyone in question knew that they were being assessed and each were given a specific set of guidelines to follow. However, both groups clearly and intentionally deviated from their roles and became antagonistic and violent quite quickly. The "role" of the prisoners is not made entirely specific in the synopsis but the presumption would be that the prisoners should be quiet, follow the orders of the guards and so forth. What was much more specific were the orders given to the guards. They were given mirrored sunglasses and nightsticks but were also told to not be violent while maintaining order. In short, the ethical principles involved included the people clearly knowing they were being assessed and both groups were told what they should be doing. Something of note is that a good amount of abuse happened before the experiment was called off. It was to the point that two prisoners quit the experiment before the researchers pulled the plug. This is a gross violation of ethical and research principles to put it lightly (Zimbardo, 1973).

As for the strategies that were used to insure the standards of ethical research, it was generally held, apparently, that the researchers would generally not interfere so long as things did not get too dangerous or aggressive. Obviously, that is precisely what happened. Even so, the researchers did not advocate or order violence in advance. However, the conditions and environment that were created obviously led to violence and depraved behavior by both groups. As such, it is clear that success was a mix. The reactions given were genuine and real but they were rather dangerous and the experiment had to be halted so that no one got seriously hurt. It should be noted that the overall testing for the subjects was rather thin given that only people with "normal" psychological profiles were accepted. Also, even with the results, the people in question knew they were being watched. Regardless, it is clear that the 24/7 containment of the prisoners as juxtaposed to the aggressive dress and posture of the guards who were only doing eight hour shifts clearly led to some problems. The study was good in that it was pretty good proof that anyone will become psychologically unhinged, even if temporarily, while they are confined under certain conditions (Zimbardo, 1973).

As for what alternate strategies could have been done, it really depends on what was being researched. If the goal was to see if "normal" people would become violent or otherwise out of sorts under certain conditions, then the existing design is fine. However, if the goal was to see how real convicts would react, then the convicts would actually be real and the guards would be in on the experiment. However, just in case what happened with Zimbardo happened in this revised design, the batons carried by the guards should be rubber or hollow plastic so that they cannot harm anyone. Presumably, the goal would be to see if the appearances, not the violence possibly inflicted, caused problems. Accounting for or allowing for violence in advance would not be ethical and would almost certainly be illegal. One fatal flaw with the Zimbardo experiment, perhaps, is that the prisoners probably knew (by virtue of the fact that they knew the study was going on) that the guards were ordered not to harm them physically and this surely made them much bolder than they would have been if they thought the possibility of harm would come. As illustrated by the actions of the guards, the baiting and verbal barbs of the prisoners made them forget (or disregard) the orders to not harm the prisoners (Zimbardo, 1973).

Robbers Cave Experiment

As for the ethical principles that were at issue with Robbers Cave, there was the use of juveniles. As such, the testing criteria was (and should have been) much higher and the parents of the children involved were required to consent, as should have been the case. The children and the groups were not aware they were being studied and were not even aware of each other (as groups) until after the experiment began. However, it is clear that they were trying to avoid any manifestation of the Hawthorne effect when it came to results and they steered the groups away from violence and gang-like behavior once a tipping point had been reached. This was necessary, though, to completely get the results needed but they changed the tone when they needed to (Sherif, 1954).

As for what was done to enforce the standards, strict studying and evaluation of the kids in advance was done and it was done on a level that was clearly advanced and methodical. Second, the parents knew precisely what was being studied and what was going on. Only those kids whose parents consented were involved in the study. Lastly, when the kids started to truly get violent and when things got dangerous, there was an intervention to go about reversing the trends of the study's results. Rather than just call off the study, actions were taken to see if the kids could be brought back from the "brink" that was created by the initial conditions. Surely, had the intervention not been successful, an end to the study would have been called much like was done with Zimbardo. However, it is clear that the study's methodology creators had a good idea that the intervention work and they surely went off of evidence-based research and practice, not unlike what happens every day in the medical field. Given all that, it is clear that the methods and tools used by the researchers were very successful. They proved that the mob and gang mentality sets in when conditions are set a certain way but they also proved that this can be rolled back with the proper adjustments and changes. Zimbardo only did half of that. What is interesting and superior about Zimbardo, though, is that the subjects knew about the study and they reacted the same way anyway. That is rather intriguing. Then again, the two studies are not apples to apples in that one group used children and one group used adults. That is not an insignificant difference (Sherif, 1954).

The specific hypotheses that were tested as part of the Robbers Cave study were dual in nature. The first hypothesis was that individuals with no established relationship but yet are brought together with common goals will form roles and hierarchies as part of their reaction to that situation being created. The other hypothesis was that if the two groups are brought together in any form of competition or rivalry, the reactions will range from aggressive to hostile at some point, if not right way. The implications relating to the "evidenced" review of human nature was rather well-developed and looped in all sorts of religions and cultures such as Europeans, the Chinese, people from India and humanity as a whole (Sherif, 1954).

Better Implementation of Research Ethics

Of the two case studies, the Robbers Cave experiment was better and it was not even close. The Robbers Cave experiment was similar to the Zimbardo one but there were some very key differences and those differences had a clear effect on the outcome. First, the participants were much more thoroughly screened. Second, the Robbers Cave people were minors and the children had full consent from their parents to participate in the game. Third, the kids did not know that they were being assessed and the two teams did not know that each other existed until after the study started. While a swing to violence did occur in this study, just like the Zimbardo study, there was not a stoppage of the study. Instead, practical and constructive exercises to bring unity and peace between the two groups was attempted and successfully completed. The two case studies had similar controls but the Robbers Cave experiment's preparations and controls were much more extensive and superior and there was a more proper and educating reaction to what happened when people started to get violent. Obviously, a mob/gang mentality ensued with both groups but the speed in which the children were pulled back from that behavior was stunning in its… [END OF PREVIEW]

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