I have always been fascinated by human behavior; and because of that, I love to ponder the results of the Stanford Prison Experiment. But there is a lot more to the experiment than us commonly known. There have even been other experiments to try to tease out the strange behavior the students displayed in the experiment.
Taken together, these two studies don’t suggest that we all have an innate capacity for tyranny or victimhood. Instead, they suggest that our behavior largely conforms to our preconceived expectations. All else being equal, we act as we think we’re expected to act—especially if that expectation comes from above. Suggest, as the Stanford setup did, that we should behave in stereotypical tough-guard fashion, and we strive to fit that role. Tell us, as the BBC experimenters did, that we shouldn’t give up hope of social mobility, and we act accordingly.