During the last week of the semester, my INST 381 (Research Methods) students discuss research ethics. We did a bit of that earlier, when they learned about filling out IRB paperwork for a survey protocol assignment. But this week we will discuss Philip Zimbardo’s controversial Stanford Prison Experiment.
There’s an irony here. The experiment was—by today’s standards, certainly—extremely unethical. Yet, Zimbardo (and others) continue to draw lessons from it. In fact, he’s made a career out of this experiment.
One activity I’ve done in the past is to have students deconstruct one “reality television” competition, like Survivor or Big Brother, treating it like an experimental design. It’s a good way to test not only students’ understandings of research ethics, but also research design (and whether such shows actually allow for a substantial test of some hypotheses).