Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Stanford Prison Experiment, fs01, and Learned Helplessness in lifestyle D/s

Well, my thoughts are swirling all over the place.  Writing Arc 6 of fs01 brought back some memories of a handful of Psych courses I took in college (I had debated majoring in it for a while).  If you have taken any Psych courses (or read a lot) you are likely aware of the rather infamous 1973 Stanford Prison Experiment.  I had reviewed a few case studies of these ~15 years ago and remembered a handful of things.  I did a little bit of brush up work on the study as well as watched the (not so great) movie adaptation that came out last year as I was curious to see how they would portray the mental aspects of it.

If you aren't familiar with the study, in 1973 a Stanford Psych professor set up a two week mock prison simulation that students were paid to take part in and the results observed.  His focus was heavily based around finding whether prison guard brutality was a factor of the guard's natural personalities or if the prison environment created such behaviors.  24 students were screened for mental issues and selected.  A coin toss was used to determine if they would be a guard or prisoner.

The prisoners were given smocks (dresses) as uniforms and forced to wear a pantyhose hat and a chain around their ankle. The guards dressed in uniforms, carried batons, and always wore sunglasses that prevented eye contact.  The guards were prohibited from physically harming the prisoners but they were granted freedom on how to treat them otherwise, using verbal abuse and forced exercises and the like as punishments. 

The findings were that the guards became abusive during the first day and that behavior continued to grow day by day.  The prisoners adapted more slowly, resisting at first but eventually fell into line and grew more submissive as the simulation continued.  The simulation was terminated on the 6th day after the guards had become too sadistic and cruel.  It's rather fascinating at how quickly people adapted to their roles and that authority had a tendency to abuse its power.

Something that had bothered me with Arcs 5 and 6 was whether or not the mental adaptation of fs01 would happen within the reasonable time frame that I have been working with in regards to chronological progression.  The findings of the Stanford experiment lead me to believe that the pace is working without being unrealistic.  Only time will tell if it continues to feel that way in the writing.

While reading up some summary analysis of the experiment it made me think of what I wrote yesterday on the progression of sadism and development of emotional masochism.  The term "Learned Helplessness" came up.  The basic idea of learned helplessness is the idea that if someone believes they have no control in avoiding unpleasant stimuli, they will simply give up in trying to avoid it.

I realize through my experiences in D/s that I have/had basically reached that point in certain ways.  While there were rules to adhere to and related punishments, these were avoidable as long as the rules were followed with great detail.  When you serve a sadist, you learn that there are many things that are unavoidable.  If F was bored and wanted to hit me for fun or to "remind me of my place," I would simply comply, knowing that anything I could do or say would simply make things worse. 

As sadism grows, I believe learned helplessness is the catalyst that led to my own emotional masochism.  The more helpless I felt, the deeper my subspace would go, the less I would/could resist and I simply accepted whatever was done to me.  Occasionally I would test to see if some of this was avoidable, but it was usually smacked right back at me and in a worse way than it would have been.

Interesting stuff.


  1. I agree learned helplessness fits somewhere in this spectrum.

    In my experience (meaning only my own ;) ) I've found this does apply but only in those areas the Domme wishes for it to. And I don't think those areas vary much within each dominant I have known. There is also the kind of "learned helpful" side in which the dynamic not only encourages the submissive to be pro-active, it demands that he take maximum initiative (umm...within what is allowable) which is sometimes challenging if she moves that line around a bit. ;)

    1. Thank you, Watson.

      I do agree with the learned helpful as well. It does seem to cater to the giving vs. receiving sides of her nature though. Learned helpful seems to only affect her "receiver" side that wishes to be pampered. Learned helplessness seems to come from her "giver" side that wishes to tease, torture, and torment.

  2. Thank you for sharing about this experiment. I had not heard of it yet.

    1. Thank you, Miss Lily. It is quite an interesting case study that can show just how quickly people can adapt to roles and associated behaviors.