American Soldiers’ Engagement in Prison Abuse in Iraq

Milgram Obedience Study and Zimbardo Stanford Prison Experiment are two pieces of research regarding social influence conducted by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo. Their study showed diverse behavioral patterns under certain circumstances, and the research results allowed the scientists to analyze the tendencies of the change in human behavior. For example, during Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment, the researchers chose a number of individuals based on certain characteristics and analyzed how the behavior of these young adults changed in imprisonment. In Milgram Obedience Study, the nature of human behavior and its relationship to diverse social situations were analyzed as well.

Both studies can be applied to the example of American soldiers who engaged in prison abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The environment is the first factor that influences human behavior. Being a prison guard can be considered a stressful event rather, even for soldiers; moreover, poor living conditions, the amount of power possessed, and the ability to control others put much pressure on soldiers and influence their behavior. The thing that changes is the emotional background, and the guardians tend to feel a spectrum of emotions from indifference and joy to despair and hysteria. In the first stages, neutral emotions lead to the existence of a normal flow of prison life: people talk, eat, work, and sleep as usual. However, after some time spent as prison workers, the situation changes, and so does the perception of imprisoned Iraq citizens shown by soldiers.

In the second stage, guardians get nervous, irritated, and aggravated because of the unchanging daily routine, and the pressurizing atmosphere that is generally present in prisons becomes evident. Therefore, first collisions on the basis of constant irritation occur, and guardians, due to their higher social status, tend to win dominating positions. In addition, prison is generally associated with violence; therefore, behavioral patterns shown by American soldiers can be considered obedience to common rules in prison. Milgram provided viewers with the same example of Hitler and German soldiers who treated Jews without any compassion (Milgram Obedience Study). In the third stage, soldiers take up a new habit of bullying imprisoned people and being aggressive toward them. Sometimes such aggressive behavior is a way of psychological adjustment to the environment in prison; it is their way of covering basic needs in respect and self-confidence. It can also be a strive to show power and possess resources that the guardians do not have in the real world.

However, the change in attitudes towards prisoners can also be explained with the help of the change that occurs in the emotional and psychological state of both soldiers and prisoners. “I really thought that I was incapable of this kind of behavior” (Zimbardo Shows How Most Evil Comes from Hierarchy, 00:00:43-00:00:50). This is the comment that one of the participants of the Stanford Prison Experiment gave at the end of the study. In the experiment, individuals tend to behave aggressively towards others: guardians towards prisoners and prisoners towards their inmates, especially troublemakers. Moreover, it can be concluded that the environment influences human behavior as well. Although all participants knew it was a psychological experiment, they did not behave as its subjects. Instead, they understood the environment as their present reality. Hence, Zimbardo explains this phenomenon by stating that people understand it as playing roles and allowing themselves to behave differently under the existing circumstances (Zimbardo Shows How Most Evil Comes from Hierarchy). Therefore, the behavior of American Soldiers in Iraq is rather typical in their situations.

Works Cited

“Milgram Obedience Study.” YouTube, uploaded by livewordcanada, Web.

Zimbardo Shows How Most Evil Comes from Hierarchy.YouTube, uploaded by mr1001nights, 2008. Web.

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DemoEssays. (2022) 'American Soldiers' Engagement in Prison Abuse in Iraq'. 27 November.


DemoEssays. 2022. "American Soldiers' Engagement in Prison Abuse in Iraq." November 27, 2022.

1. DemoEssays. "American Soldiers' Engagement in Prison Abuse in Iraq." November 27, 2022.


DemoEssays. "American Soldiers' Engagement in Prison Abuse in Iraq." November 27, 2022.