Stanford Prison Experiment Summary

In 1973, psychology professor Phillip Zimbardo introduced the Stanford Prison experiment in hopes to find the correlation between prisoners and prison officers. Professor Zimbardo and his team of college students soon began searching for students to participate in the experiment. In order to do so the volunteers were required to do a questionnaire that explained the rules and questions to study their current knowledge of the experiments as well as the outcome. For the experiment there was 24 selected undergraduate students to play either prisoner or guard, as had no criminal record, psychological issues, or medical issues. On August 14th -20th at Stanford University the experiment was conducted three six by nine-foot prison cells where each cell held three prisoners and a specific room for solitary confinement.

Throughout the experiment the guards were instructed by professor Zimbardo to create a hostile environment, which would emulate a real prison. The guards followed his instructions closely, which they soon began to abuse their power and dehumanize the prisoners. The abuse had caused adverse effects such as psychological trauma to some of the prisoners that they begged to be release from the experiment early. Some of the prisoners on the other hand became unwillingly obedient to the guards in order comply with their rules and avoid further abuse. The experiment was supposed to last for two weeks but it was eventually stopped after six days. The experiment had caught a lot of media and public attention where it soon became evident it had riled the public in regard of its ethnics.

Professor Zimbardo’s interest was an attempt to explore an explanation for the relationship between the current state of our correctional system and its dehumanizing effects upon prisoners and guards. The dispositional hypothesis tested by the experiment is the tendency to overlook the situations that people are in, and judge their behavior based on what we assume is their personality. In terms of the experiment it the hypothesis is whether the state of the prison is due to the people who have to enforce the rules or the population of people who are incarcerated. He wanted to challenge whether prisoners are taken to be bad people as stereotype or prison officers who are stereotypically known as tyrants.

Zimbardo’s goal was to demonstrate that it was not population but the prison situation itself, with its institutionalized power differentials, which manifested tension and distrust. They were also interested in a situational revolution which was the immediate social situation can overwhelm in importance the type of individual differences in personal traits or dispositions that people normally think of as being determinative of social behavior. The structure of their hypothesis revolves around their foundation of curiosity of if social contexts can influence, change, shape, and transform human behavior.

Around to the happening of the experiment in 1971 an American prison in New York known as the Attica Correctional Facility had experienced a Riot. It was known as the Riot at Attica where the prisoners had upraised and seized the prison. There were ten guards and thirty-three prisoners who were killed during the riot. Prior to the riot the prisoners were fuming because of the overcrowding, censorship of letters, and living conditions. The guards limited them to one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper each month. Some prisoners, adopting the radical spirit of the times, began to perceive themselves as political prisoners rather than convicted criminals. The prisoners were holding guards hosting making demands such as improved living conditions, more religious freedom, and end to mail censorship, and extended phone privileges.

The experiment was potential evidence to the prisoner’s class action lawsuit in regards of how the prisoners were not entirely at fault for the riot. The prisoners were refused basic human necessities such as privacy, hygiene, and human connection. Without them the prisoners weren’t treated as people and as rather animals living on a farm. Being abused and disregarded as people it had driven them to riot because of their circumstances. The riot is very relatable to the experiment as they happened within the same time period and coincides to the structural basis of the experiment’s hypothesis.

After the experiment had ended they had found out the behavior of prisoners and guards in the simulated environment emulated an undeniable similarity to actions found in actual prisons. The simulation had developed the abuse of power to bend and negatively affect human behavior in ways that surprised the predictions and violated the predictions of those who created and volunteered in it. For some of the volunteers it had almost become a real experience to them. Progressively as the days went the guards increasingly became more hostile and aggressive to the prisoners in means to make them submit and comply with their orders. The prisoners had then become less resistant and had been seen as less united with each other. The reactions conjured from the stimulation was not because of the environment created but rather the product of a environment that was easily manipulated and could influence the behavior of individuals.

In 1973, as a direct consequence of Zimbardo’s experiment (and Milgram’s before
it), the American Psychological Association(APA) moved to tighten its regulations
around research ethics, in order to limit future suffering among experimental
subjects.

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