Stanford Prison Experiment


StanfordPrison Experiment

Theinfamous Stanford prison experiment draws much attention in the fieldof psychology and ethics. Phillip Zimbardo created an experiment toinvestigate the psychological effects of prisoners and prison guards.The participants were 24 male students who were selected randomlyfrom 70 volunteers. They were randomly assigned either the roles ofprison guards or prisoners. The researchers in this experimentobserved the behavior of the participants using hidden cameras. Tothe researcher’s surprise, the experiment that was expected to last14 days came to a sudden halt after six days of experiment. Theprison guards became aggressive towards the prisoners while on theother hand, the prisoners became depressed and passive. Five of theprisoners began showing severe negative emotions the reason why theexperiment was stopped (, n.d).

Stanford’sexperiment has become one of the most controversial psychologicalexperiments. It is often cited as prototype of an unethical research.The prisoners were abused and subjected to emotional stress duringthe entire experiment. Zimbardo, who was assigned the role ofsuperintendent, watched the participants abuse each other like it wasa real prison setting. Such an experiment cannot be legallyreplicated today as it fails to meet several ethical codes, includingthose governed by the American psychology association. Some of theethical codes that the experiment violated are harm, deception, andrisk/benefit ratio.

Therisk/benefit ratio, although there are different views, was violatedin the experiment. The physical and psychological abuse that theprisoners underwent was not worth the reasons behind the experiment.In fact, an experiment that harms the participants physically andemotionally violates the basic human rights. In the course of theexperiment, one of the students suffered acute emotionaldisturbances, uncontrolled rage, and disorganized thinking. Insteadof dismissing this participant, he was taken to a different room andallowed to continue with the abusive experiment. The participants whowere released from the experiment had suffered serious abuse forseveral hours before their release. Secondly, the researcher did notgive the whole information to the students and the parents on theexpected consequences. Although all the participants signed a consentform, the expected results were far and wide reaching. Zimbardo knewthat there was a possibility that they would behave the same way asin real prisons. This means that he knew there was a possibility thatthe prisoners would be abused by the guards.

Thestudy confirmed that people readily conform to their expected socialroles, especially if those roles are stereotyped. These results havebeen referred by many modern psychologists to study the behavior ofpeople. However, even though the experiment came up with a usefulfinding, the harm it caused the participants cannot match up. The endfindings of the experiment cannot justify the way the research wasconducted. Psychologists must adhere to certain codes of ethics thatpromote human dignity and welfare. There is a high likelihood thatsome of the most affected participants suffered acute detrimentaleffects. Some may acquire some psychological problems after theexperiment due to its abusive nature. Trying to identify how peoplebehave in certain situations is critical to understand humanbehavior however, it should not be done at the expense of thewelfare of others. Any study that may abuse the welfare of others isunethical and violates the principles of human rights.


StanfordPrison Experiment. (n.d). . Retrieved from