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Alexander Haslam on BBC Prison Study - Dictionary of Arguments

Haslam I 141
BBC Prison Study/BPS/social psychology/Reicher/Haslam: The BBC Prison Study (BPS) (Reicher and Haslam, 2006(1); see also Haslam and Reicher, 2005(2), 2009(3)) (…) revisited issues raised by Zimbardo’s >Stanford prison experiment (SPE) using the same basic paradigm as Zimbardo’s study – seeking to examine the behaviour of 15 men who had been randomly assigned to roles as guards or prisoners within a specially constructed prison-like environment over a period of up to two weeks.
ReicherVsZimbardo/HaslamVsZimbardo: BPS differed form the SPE in two key respects: 1. No rule within the prison was assumed so that
Haslam I 141
[one] could study groups dynamics without directly managing them.
2. The study involved a number of manipulations that had been devised on the basis of social identity theory (SIT). It suggests that people do not automatically take on roles associated with group membership, but do so only when they have come to identify with the group in question (Tajfel and Turner, 1979)(4).
BPS/Reicher/Haslam: its outcome suggests a very different analysis of tyranny from that promoted by Zimbardo.
1) this is because when participants in the BPS became committed to tyranny they were not acting in terms of roles assigned by the experimenters, but instead had rejected those roles and adopted new ones.
Haslam I 142
2) There was variation in participants’ enthusiasm for this tyrannical solution, and that those who were most enthusiastic were the participants who had been most authoritarian at the study’s outset. (…) this meant that authoritarian participants were only in a position to express and advance their authoritarian ambitions once they had been galvanized by a sense of shared identity that had both steeled them and drawn more moderate individuals to their cause.



1. Reicher, S.D. and Haslam, S.A. (2006) ‘Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC Prison Study’, British Journal of Social Psychology, 45: 1–40.
2. Haslam, S.A. and Reicher, S.D. (2005) ‘The psychology of tyranny’, Scientific American Mind, 16(3): 44–51.
3. Haslam, S.A. and Reicher, S.D. (2009) The BBC Prison Study website. Available at: www.bbcprisonstudy.org.
4. Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979) ‘An integrative theory of intergroup conflict’, in W.G. Austin and S. Worchel (eds), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole. pp. 33–48.


S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher, „Tyranny. Revisiting Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment“, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017


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