Stanford Prison Experiment

What is the Stanford Prison Experiment?

The Stanford Prison Experiment was an experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo and his team of researchers. They conducted the experiment at Stanford University. The Stanford Prison Experiment was planned to last two weeks in 1971. The experiment started on August 14.

The purpose of the Stanford Prison Experiment was to possibly discover the causes of conflict between military guards and their prisoners. The Stanford Prison Experiment was funded by the United States Office of Naval Research.

The experiment would re-create a prison run by volunteers. Zimbardo played the role of superintendent of their pretend prison. Volunteers would be randomly chosen to play the role of either guard or prisoner in their experiment.

The Stanford Prison Experiment took place in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford University.
The Stanford Prison Experiment took place in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford University. | Source

Setting Up the Stanford Prison Experiment

The experiment called for volunteers for two weeks in return for $15 a day. Zimbardo was looking for volunteers that had no criminal background, lacked psychological issues and had no major medical conditions that could put a damper on the experiment. Out of 70 potential volunteers, 24 undergraduate students were chosen to participate in the experiment.

The mock prison for the Stanford Prison Experiment was set up in the basement of the psychology building of Stanford University. Their prison included three 6 ft by 9 ft prison cells which would house three prisoners with their cots. The mock prison included a room designed for solitary confinement. The prison also included a few rooms for the guard and the superintendent as well as a prison yard.

The prisoners and guards each got appropriate garb for their roles including ill-fitting socks and prison garb for the prisoners and guard uniforms, batons, and reflective sunglasses for the guards.

While prisoners of the Stanford Prison were required to stay at the prison 24 hours a day, the guards took turns doing eight-hour shifts with each shift having three guards. While the guards were not on duty, they were able to live their lives normally and attend classes as usual.

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Ethical Issues of the Stanford Prison Experiment

The first day of the experiment all things were normal. But, very quickly the volunteer guards and prisoners took to their roles. The volunteers were allowed to act in any manner they liked which resulted in prisoners rebelling and guards fighting to show their authority.

Guards used dehumanizing and hostile. When a rebellion broke out with the prisoners on the second day, guards felt the prisoners needed to obey the rules. Guards used physical and mental punishments and tactics in order to get the prisoners to obey their rules.

Guards took away the cots in the cells and used them as tools to get what they wanted. They threw the prisoners who started the riot in solitary confinement and the roles that these volunteers and researchers took were starting to be taken very seriously.

A couple prisoners went mental during the experiment by getting very depressed, showing signs of rage, and crying. Ultimately, they were released from the experiment.

The experiment took a turn for the worse when going to the bathroom became a privilege for the prisoners and some were forced to urinate and defecate in a bucket in their cell without permission to clean it out. One prisoner ended up going on a hunger strike to fight against the experiment.

The End of the Stanford Prison Experiment

As mentioned earlier, the experiment was supposed to last for two weeks. After Zimbardo brought his girlfriend to see the experiment for an article she was writing, she was appalled at what she saw. She thought the experiment was unethical. After Zimbardo had been shown the light of his experiment, he shut the whole experiment down. The experiment only went on for six days. In the end, the guards had become abusive and the prisoners showed signs of extreme anxiety.

The study found that when humans are placed in a role of power, they begin to act in ways they normally wouldn't in their everyday lives and if they are placed in a situation where they have no control, they become depressed and passive.

Documentary about the Stanford Prison Experiment

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2 comments

someonewhoknows profile image

someonewhoknows 2 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

Seems to me this was a foolish experiment in the first place. It's only redeeming aspect shows how absolute power corrupts absolutely and mans inhumanity towards other men.


LagunaAlkaline profile image

LagunaAlkaline 2 years ago from Camas, WA Author

@someonewhoknows It definitely wasn't well thought out. The researchers should have only been observers instead of involving themselves in the experiment. If they didn't get sucked into the distorted reality and had set guidelines, the experiment probably wouldn't have gotten out of hand.

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