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Doctor Zimbardo Stanford Prison Experiment

Updated on July 4, 2014

Tha Standford Prison Experiment was a study conducted by Standford University Psychology Professor Phillip Zimbardo in an effort to determine to psychological effects of becoming a prison guard or a prisoner. The experiment took place on August 14th to the 20th in the year 1971 (the actual experiment was supposed to be 2 weeks but was prematurely shut down). The people the front the bill for this experiment was U.S. Office or Naval Research, who was interested in finding out the reasons for conflicts between military guards and prisoners.
Twenty Four students were selected for this experiment out of nearly one hundred that applied. These individuals that’s were chosen, were chosen became they didn’t appear to exhibit any abnormal behavior. Out of the twenty four, nine were randomly selected to be prisoners and nine to be prison guards. The remaining 6 (3 guards and 3 prisoners) remained outside the study as backups should the need arise. The prison in which they were held was a mock prison in the Psychology Departments basement. Bars were placed on windows, three cells for the nine prisons were created, a yard and a chow hall were also made.
Lots of effort was put in trying to ensure the realism of this experiment so much so that the Palo Alto Police Department agreed to arrest the 9 men. Within 24 hours the men selected to be guards and the men selected to be prisoners underwent an amazing transformation. Some of the prisoners became passive while other began to act in a rebellious nature. And the guards some of them began to just want to put in their time and go home, and thus letting other guards who wanted to abuse their power have free reign. As the days went on the guards grew steadily worse, and were allowed by Dr. Zimbardo to flex their power, stopping only at hitting the prisoners with their caveats

-After 36 hours one of the prisoners began to cry, curse, scream and go into a rage that seemed out of control. After a long period of time Dr. Zimbardo finally released the prisoner stating that he really was suffering and had to be released.

-At day 2 a riot ensued.

-Early in the experiment the guards began to call the prisoners by their numbers, further taking the individuality away from them.

- The replacement prisoner (for the 36 hour prisoner) went on hunger strike upon seeing the condition and was locked up in a closet without a light bulb. The guards turned the other prisoners against the replacement prisoner by saying that if he came out they would take away every ones blankets. Thus the prisoners became hitting the door of the closet and saying threatening things to the replacement prisoner.

- The reason for the abort was Christina Maslach, the Angel of Mercy herself either that or a graduate student who was dating Dr. Zimbardo at the time objected to the cruel and immortality of this experiment. It was noted that over fifty people observed this experiment but only one objected.

So all in all it was a dark day in Psychologist history when this experiment was allowed to take place. A lot of these behaviors are still in use in prisons and Basic Training for the military. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article.

Guard Tactic's

The guards upon coming onto a shift change would count the prisoners by waking them all up instead of counting them while they slept. Or the guards would refuse to let the prisoners use the latrines. Mattresses became a valued item and the guards would remove these. It was concluded that by the end of the experiment the majority of the guards began to exhibit sadistic behavior.


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    • Bredavies profile image

      Bredavies 5 years ago

      One of my favorite psychological subjects! Great hub!