On This Day … 23 March

People (Births)

  • 1900 – Erich Fromm, German psychologist and sociologist (d. 1980).
  • 1933 – Philip Zimbardo, American psychologist and academic.

People (Deaths)

  • 2008 – Vaino Vahing, Estonian psychiatrist, author, and playwright (b. 1940).

Erich Fromm

Erich Seligmann Fromm (23 March 1900 to 18 March 1980) was a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was a German Jew who fled the Nazi regime and settled in the US. He was one of the founders of The William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis and Psychology in New York City and was associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory.

Philip Zimbardo

Philip George Zimbardo (/zɪmˈbɑːrdoʊ/; born 23 March 1933) is an American psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment, which was later severely criticised for both ethical and scientific reasons. He has authored various introductory psychology textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox, and The Time Cure. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project.

Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment (SPE) was a social psychology experiment that attempted to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison officers. It was conducted at Stanford University on the days of 15-21 August 1971, by a research group led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students. In the study, volunteers were assigned to be either “guards” or “prisoners” by the flip of a coin, in a mock prison, with Zimbardo himself serving as the superintendent. Several “prisoners” left mid-experiment, and the whole experiment was abandoned after six days. Early reports on experimental results claimed that students quickly embraced their assigned roles, with some guards enforcing authoritarian measures and ultimately subjecting some prisoners to psychological torture, while many prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, by the officers’ request, actively harassed other prisoners who tried to stop it. The experiment has been described in many introductory social psychology textbooks, although some have chosen to exclude it because its methodology is sometimes questioned.

The US Office of Naval Research funded the experiment as an investigation into the causes of difficulties between guards and prisoners in the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. Certain portions of it were filmed, and excerpts of footage are publicly available.

The experiment’s findings have been called into question, and the experiment has been criticized for unscientific methodology. Although Zimbardo interpreted the experiment as having shown that the “prison guards” instinctively embraced sadistic and authoritarian behaviours, Zimbardo actually instructed the “guards” to exert psychological control over the “prisoners”. Critics also noted that some of the participants behaved in a way that would help the study, so that, as one “guard” later put it, “the researchers would have something to work with,” which is known as demand characteristics. Variants of the experiment have been performed by other researchers, but none of these attempts have replicated the results of the SPE.

Vaino Vahling

Vaino Vahing (15 February 1940 to 23 March 2008), was an Estonian writer, prosaist, psychiatrist and playwright. Starting from 1973, he was a member of Estonian Writers Union.

Vaino Vahing has written many articles about psychiatry, but also literature – novels, books and plays with psychiatric and autobiographical influence. He has played in several Estonian films.

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