Here’s one commentary on the Winterbourne View adult care home abuse case:
The author, Christina Patterson, makes a comparison with Abu Ghraib, but doesn’t mention the Stanford Prison Experiment. Quite right too, I think. The issue here is clearly not obedience or following roles, the usual explanations in the SPE, though it might be conformity. She also points out the possible influence of the lead role plated by a bully:
In prisons, in police stations, in detention centres, in refugee camps, in care homes, in hospitals, and in offices, a bully gets some power. And other people, who are afraid of the bully, start copying the bully. Sometimes, the bully is just horrible, but sometimes the bully is violent, and sometimes the bully thinks that being violent is such good fun that he tries other things, too. Sometimes, he starts trying out different ways to torture someone, and the people around him start trying them out, too.
My version of this is the corrupting power of the Bad Apple. Patterson talks about bad apples, but misses the ‘one bad apple turns the whole barrel bad’ point, as do most people who use the phrase nowadays, but what she’s suggesting happened at Winterbourne View fits the point exactly.
She also points out the other role in these circumstances:
In most places where very bad things happen, most apples are bad. At Winterbourne View, there was a good one. He was a senior nurse. His name is Terry Bryan. […]
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil,” said the philosopher Edmund Burke, “is for good men to do nothing”. What he didn’t say is that it takes quite a lot of courage to speak out.
That’s another role (or another kind of person?) that you should be familiar with from the Schools of Thought lectures.