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The Stanford Experiment

Updated on May 19, 2017

What was it about?

In the summer of 1971 professors, and students at Stanford University conducted a psychological experiment on participants who were payed fifteen dollars a day. This experiment was directed at how prisoners, and guards acted while either in a dominant, or in the prisoners case submissive role. It was scheduled to go on for two weeks, but was cut short due to concerns of mental well being, and physical strain endured by prisoners, and guards alike.

They began by building a mock prison in one of the buildings on campus. Complete with holding cells, and a solitary confinement cell. After they built it students were picked at random to be either a prisoner, or a guard. They wanted it to be almost as realistic as possible so the "prisoners" were searched, handcuffed, and brought to the prison. As soon as they were in the mock prison they were fingerprinted, and then strip searched for humiliation. They were then given a uniform with their identification number as well as a shackle around the foot, and were placed in their cell.

The guards wore sunglasses at all times so that the prisoners could never see their eyes. What is really interesting is that the guards never were told how to control the prisoners, they were free to do as they wish. During the night guards escorted the prisoners out of their cells to do body counts. Everything was done to re-enact what happens at a real prison. Those who disobeyed orders were either put into solitary, or forced to do push-ups. By the second day prisoners were fed up with the treatment, and started rebelling against their guards. Some were given special treatment while others were punished.



My opinions on the Stanford Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment was really fascinating. I was amazed at the results which ended abruptly halfway during the test. Even though the "prisoners" were actually participants in the study they showed, and proved that the human mind along with the physical body cannot take this type of punishment.

This study really shows how primitive people can be in certain conditions. For example when the prisoners tried to cope with their stress they rebelled against the over oppressive guards. One of the test subjects was removed after only the second day due to psychological concerns.

For the most part the rest of the prisoners cried, cursed obscenities, yelled constantly, and were going "crazy" from their anxiety. This is in part one of the reasons why the study had to end so quickly. The guards that were chosen randomly between twenty-four participants displayed several characteristics when attending to the inmates. Out of the three were the "good-guys" who did little favors, and hardly punished them. The "tough-but-fair" guard who followed the rules set by the warden. And lastly the third was the "hostile" guard who was arbitrary, and inventive on their forms of prisoner humiliation.

The project was ended on the sixth day even though it was scheduled for two weeks. This was due to guards escalating their inhuman treatment of the prisoners. This occurred during the night while they thought the experiment was halted, and not being administered. Although the whole place was rigged with video, and audio for analysis so they were caught. Luckily, they were caught before their crude acts could escalate. This project tells us that these types of actions have happened in our prisons. They still do happen in small cases, but are easily covered up. It also shows that locking a person up in a "kennel" like a dog, while poking a stick in will make people go nuts. Human nature shows that we use "power" over effectively. This "power" is actually a sickness when it becomes egotistical and totalitarian over humans.

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