What Is an Example of Social Forces at Work?

Social forces are fundamental in the study of sociology, shaping the field's understanding of social behavior, and as such one of the most famous (or infamous) examples of social forces at work is the Zimbardo Prison Simulation, which aimed to prove that social forces at work in a prison environment were key in shaping human behavior. Participants in the experiment acted in ways they never thought possible, proving that social forces have a powerful impact on human behavior overall.

The simulation took place in the early 1970s at Stanford University. The idea behind the process was to explore the effects that powers of both situation and social roles, or social forces, could have on human behavior.

Zimbardo's hypothesis was that it was the social forces at work in the prison environment that caused the respective behavior of both prisoners and guards, not, as was argued at the time, the fact that some people were predisposed to prison guard or prisoner behavior already.

Volunteers were recruited, and split into groups of prison guards and prisoners. The guards were given strict orders to maintain control, along with uniforms and handcuffs. Prisoners were assigned numbers and given generic prison uniforms.

Initially, after a few days, prisoners revolted. This was quickly stopped by the guards, who then went on to create and enforce increasingly petty rules. Despite some of the guards claiming they were against violence and were pacifists, their behavior was radically changed due to their social role and other social forces.