By that time, several guards had become sadistic and the behavior of the prisoners provided clear indications of psychological breakdown. Interviews with study participants suggested that merely the perception of their respective roles influenced their behavior. More importantly, the groupthink that prevailed within the group of prison guards overcame any individual personal reluctance they may have had to treat their prisoners so harshly (Macionis 2003). The Significance of the Phenomenon of Groupthink on Individual Behavior:
Like deference to authority, groupthink is a natural human tendency that likely evolved as a necessary component of human social relationships that were essential to the early success of our species (Gerrig & Zimbardo 2005). In modern context, however, groupthink represents tremendous destructive potential because in the extreme, it involves the complete suspension of individual judgment and perception. In benign situations groupthink is evident in popular culture, such as in the cycle of fashion trends, professional sports fanaticism, partisan politics, and numerous other examples of social fads. In the extreme, groupthink also accounts for the erosion of public celebrations into riots, criminal gang activity, and racial and ethnic biases (Henslin 2002).
The Influence of Sensory Arousal on Personal Perspective:
External influences on individual behavior also include situational arousal, such as by fear or apprehension. Various experiments have illustrated the connection between arousal in the form of mild fear and sexual attraction, for one example (Branden 1999).
Specifically, subjects were asked to rate their degree of physical attraction and potential romantic interest in other subjects after brief meetings.
Certain subjects were randomly selected to meet in completely benign circumstances while others met in conjunction with mildly stressful circumstances such as immediately after crossing a narrow suspended footbridge.
In many cases, the experiment demonstrated that the state of arousal, even arousal unrelated to sexual attraction, strongly influenced individual responses to strangers. In general, subjects consistently rated each other as more attractive and indicated greater receptivity to potential social (i.e. romantic) interest when they met under circumstances that elevated their physiological arousal in response to perceived danger (Branden 1999).
In principle, this is a normal reaction without pathological implications; however, the results also seem to explain certain observations associated with the learned tendency toward establishing and maintaining relationships characterized by emotional conflict where individuals become conditioned to associate emotional closeness with fear, and in the most extreme cases, outright abuse by partners (Branden 1999).
It has been famously suggested that “no man is an island,” meaning that much of what makes us human is a function of our relationship to society. Whereas the human tendency to internalize environmental information and feedback from others is perfectly normal, in the extreme, those traits make us susceptible to psychological manipulation as well. Generally, neither deference to authority, groupthink, nor heightened emotional arousal are not evidence of pathology, although each is potentially associated with substantial harm where completely unchecked.
Branden, Nathaniel (1999). The Psychology of Self-Esteem.
New York: Bantam.
Gerrig, R, Zimbardo, P. (2005). Psychology and Life. 17th Edition.
New York: Allyn &.