Role theory is a common theory in sociology that attracts a lot of interest. It explains the behavior of people holding certain positions in the society and in our daily activities. For instance as a mother, wife, student, doctor, secretary etcetera, there are certain expectations and norms in which one is supposed to conform to when carrying out a particular role. This theory is explained in The Stanford Prison Experiment which was carried out in Stanford University in 1971 led by Professor Philip Zimbardo (Musen et al., 2004).The researchers received funding from the United States Marine corps and the Navy in their quest to establish the root cause of the conflict in naval prisons between the prisoners and the guards. In this study, a mock prison was created in the basement of Psychology building of Stanford University. The participants were 24 young, healthy, and mentally stable male college students who played the role of prisoners or guards (Elgar et al., 2015).This was determined randomly by a flip of a coin. Their participation would make them receive a payment of 15$ per day. Stanford simulation was supposed to take 14 days but it was aborted on day 6.
The aim of the study was to investigate how normal people behave overly when given certain social roles to take on. During the experiment, lots of chaos was observed as the two groups took on their new roles. The prisoners suffered extreme humiliation from their guards. They were insulted, tortured, and forced to clean toilets with their bare hands (Elgar, 2015). At various times, the guards would make them perform push-ups while stepping on their backs, spent hours without sleep and were stripped naked at times. The prisoners could not bear with the situation. They despaired, some retaliated violently, and others suffered mental and emotional disorder. It was an experiment that went out of hand and was therefore terminated.
Prisons are such tough places, the dispositional explanation being that the behavior of prisoners and guards makes prison environments unbearable. This is because as established by the experiment above, the evil behavior of the guards is attributed to their personality. This made the life of the prisoners unbearable (Musen, 2004). The opposite hypothesis about what may cause prisons to be tough places would be the situational hypothesis, which is the opposite of the dispositional explanation. This hypothesis asserts that environment or situation determines the behavior of individuals. This explains why the guards exercised corporal punishments to the prisoners. They found themselves in a situation where they had some authority over their subjects. They ended up abusing it.
The role reversal strategy would be used to make people positive and responsible for their behavior (Mazola et al., 2015). Jane Elliot was able to reduce discrimination and racism among third grade students and adults as well in her blue eyes/brown eyes simulation. In the case of the prison simulation, if the participants had taken turns to act as both the prisoners and the guards, the results would be different. Likewise, if the same strategy would be adopted in in schools curriculum where students play different roles say teacher-student, job seeker-interviewees, etcetera then individuals would grow up thinking and behaving in different perspectives and this would contribute to development of reasonable behavior as well as multiple and considerate ways of thinking (Mazola, 2015). This would play a significant role in bringing up and realization of a better society with less social ills.
Elgar. Alvarez, K. P., Talbott, T., Bratman, L., Emery, B., Friedman, E. Z., Crudup, B., Angarano, M. … MPI Media Group,. (2015). The Stanford prison experiment.
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Mazzola, P., & Kellermanns, F. W. (2010). Handbook of research on strategy process. Cheltenham, UK: Edward
Musen, K., Zimbardo, P. G., & Stanford Instructional Television Network. (2004). Quiet rage: The Stanford prison study. Stanford, CA: Stanford Instructional Television Network