The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment is still studied in Psychology classes across the world. Much was learned and discovered from this highly unique experiment led by Phillip Zimbardo in 1971.

Stanford University’s Psychology Department advertised the need for 24 males to be used in an experiment. The pay rate was $15.00 a day, which was a pretty good deal in the 1970s. 75 applicants submitted paperwork and then the 24 people were picked. The plan was for the experiment to last two weeks.

The idea behind the plan was that some of the male students would act as prisoners and some would be prison guards. The United States Office of Naval Research funded the project. Zimbardo would be the superintendent of the pretend prison. This prison had no locks on it. The case study’s goal was to see how the students reacted to the prison situation, the loss of power, and the gain of power as a prison guard. The school had no idea what would come for this horrible experiment. People’s lives would actually be changed. Dr. Zimbardo was scorned for a few years and only of late has made a recovery in his field, though his study is always taught in Psychology classes. He is now a public speaker, in addition to professor, and in high demand.

The project lasted six days, from August 14-20, 1971, before it was called off. The people in the project talk about how crazy the guards went with their power and how trapped the prisoners felt even though there were no locks. Two people walked away from the project before it was cancelled. The prisoners felt berated, threatened, and emotionally abused. The guards became power-hungry, verbally abusive, and animalistic. Physical torture and means actually occurred. Normal male students lost a sense of identity in a matter of hours in this project. Prisoners were broken-down and crying nonstop. The implications and end results, even though it was cancelled, are still studied in classes today. Furthermore, one can find interesting interviews and documentaries of the participants on the Internet. This study changed the ethics and behavioral mode for future studies by Psychologists.

The Stanford Prison Experiment, with Dr. Phillip Zimbardo as the lead, changed how case studies and experiments were conducted, revealed how quickly human nature can change, and brought to light the role of ethics in future experiments in all fields of science and study.