Stanford Prison Experiment

Imagine you are in a place of complete control. Everyone is doing what you say, when you say, how you say to do it, and you don’t need to explain why. You want them to obey every command they will do it just because you said so. You feel as though you are invincible, and nothing can stop you.

Now imagine the opposite, being the one controlled over. You have no place to speak and if you speak against the person in control you get punished. You get locked away or denied any food or privacy. You must do whatever the person says, or you will get penalized.

Both seems like extremes, you all the way to the left, one all the way to the right with no meet in the middle. You have the controller and the controlee. The one in power would probably feel pretty good getting whatever you want when you want it and how you wanted it. On the contrast being the controlee feels bad having no right to be who you are and being denied basic human rights, in other words, you feel like a dog. 

These are the feelings the boys in the Stanford Prison Experiment felt like. Now we know that the whole experiment is morally wrong, and that heavy emotional toll was taken. Those are prisoners had severe mental health problems after they were released, they felt like they were not allowed to have opinions; they are not allowed to be themselves. Those as a guard afterwards felt appalled over what they did, but some thought that the feeling of being in control felt great.

For those of you who have never heard of this or have heard but don’t know what its about, here is a summary of what happened. A psychologist Dr. Zimbardo wanted to test out if the brutality of American correctional officers were due to their sadistic tendencies or because of the environment they are in. He placed an ad in the newspaper open to college students who were willing to act out the role as a prison guard or a prisoner for 2 weeks with a pay of $15/hr.

Dr. Zimbardo controlled for mental illness and disability so those factors could not interfere with the results of his research. He took 21 boys and gave them each an assigned position as the guard or the prisoner and left them to be and act out what a prison should be like. The same amount of food was given, the same outfits were used, and the place looked very much like a prison.

To make a long story short, the experiment only lasted 6 days because the whole research went haywire. The guards started to emotionally abuse the prisoners and the prisoners were no longer people, they referred to themselves by their number and did exactly as told because they were afraid of what could happen. They could not be physically beaten though since it was in the contract that no physical violence could be used.

The guards would only talk about trouble prisoners and the jail conditions while the prisoners only talked about the jail conditions. Neither party talked about things outside of the experiment as they accepted their placement and really took on the roll of their part. Maybe even too much. The guards developed extreme aggressions and the prisoners engaged in mental breakdowns.

The conclusion of this experiment was as follows: “people will readily conform to the social roles they are expected to play, especially if the roles are as strongly stereotyped as those of the prison guards.”

What I believe should be done with this research is to take the outcome and compare it to how teens and children act in schools. Students become who they think they should be based on reputations and social roles given to them by peers. Maybe if we understood this more we could increase the likelihood of stopping bullying and maltreatment from student to student.

Mcleod, Saul. “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” Stanford Prison Experiment | Simply Psychology,

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