The Stanford Prison Experiment: The Basics
The Stanford Prison Experiment is one of the most controversial and famous psychological studies of all time. In this experiment, college students were randomly assigned to play the role of either a prisoner or a prison guard in a simulated jail environment. The results were shocking as the guards became sadistic and the prisoners became passive and depressed. The experiment was ended early due to the ethical concerns raised by the study.
2. The Stanford Prison Experiment Overview
2.1 The Stanford Prison Experiment: The Basics
In 1971, Stanford University psychology professor Philip Zimbardo conducted the now-famous Stanford prison experiment. The goal of the experiment was to study the psychological effects of perceived power, specifically, how someone’s behavior changes when they view themselves as having authority over others.
To do this, Zimbardo recruited 24 male college students who were then divided into two groups: 12 prisoners and 12 guards. The students playing the role of prisoners were arrested at their homes, “booked,” and taken to jail. The guards were given uniforms and told to maintain order in the prison.
The prison was set up in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford University. The cells were 6ft by 9ft, with three cots and a toilet in each cell. There was also a smallyard where prisoners could exercise for one hour each day.
The experiment was originally slated to last two weeks, but it had to be stopped after only six days due to the extreme psychological distress experienced by the prisoners.
2. 2 The Stanford Prison Experiment: The Results
The results of the Stanford prison experiment were shocking. Within a few days, the guards began to act in a sadistic and cruel manner towards the prisoners. They would withhold food, force them to strip naked, and make them perform degrading acts such as scrubbing toilets with their bare hands.
The prisoners became depressed and passive, internalizing the power dynamic that had been established by the guards. Some even began to show signs of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
2. 3 The Stanford Prison Experiment: The Critiques
The Stanford prison experiment has been criticized for its lack of scientific rigor and for its ethical implications. Firstly, it is important to note that the sample size of 24 is very small and not representative of the population at large. Secondly, the participants knew they were taking part in an experiment, which could have influenced their behavior. Finally, the artificiality of the setting might have also influenced the results.
Despite these criticisms, the Stanford prison experiment is still considered an important contribution to our understanding of power and authority dynamics. It highlights how easily normal people can become cruel when given power over others, and how quickly people can internalize an oppressive system.
The Stanford prison experiment is a controversial and famous study that has provided important insights into the psychological effects of power and authority. Although the study has been criticized for its lack of scientific rigor, its findings are still relevant today.