In October 2001 we placed an advert in several British newspapers. It asked ‘Do you really know yourself’ and asked for men to take part in a social science experiment to be shown on TV. It warned that the research would be a challenge and involve ‘hardship, hunger, solitude, anger’.
322 people responded. They went through three stages of screening: a large battery of psychometric tests, a telephone interview and then, for those who passed these hurdles, a full clinical interview with independent clinical psychologists.
We had two main selection criteria. The first was ethical. We didn’t want anyone violent or vulnerable who, in the tough conditions of the prison, might be a danger to themselves or others. The second was scientific. We wanted a selection of well-adjusted people so that, if the study led to tyranny or conflict, this could not be explained simply in terms of the participants’ personalities.
After this exhaustive process, we ended up with 15 decent men. If circumstances pushed these people to extremes, they could push anybody to extremes.