Self improvementPsychology

Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo: reviews, analysis, conclusions

What do you know about the course of the Stanford prison experiment? Surely many of you have heard something about him. Still, because in Stanford in 1971 was held one of the most famous experiments of the 20th century. The cellar of the psychological faculty turned into a prison for one week with all its horrors. Why were the guards so cruel? Who decided to participate in this study? What is the fate of its organizers and participants? You will learn all this after reading the article.

The Stanford prison experiment is a well-known socio-psychological study conducted by Philip Zimbardo, an American psychologist. Within the imitation of the prison environment, the influence of the roles of the "prisoner" and the "supervisor" was studied. At the same time, roles were randomly distributed. Participants of the study played them for about a week.

"Overseers" when included in the situation, as well as when holding "prisoners" behind bars, had a certain freedom of action. Volunteers who agreed to the conditions of the experiment, coped differently with the tests and stresses. The behavior of both groups was recorded and analyzed.

Selection of participants in the experiment

Stanford prison experiment - a study in which 22 men participated. They were selected from 75 responded to the announcement in the newspaper. For participation offered a fee of 15 dollars a day. Respondents were supposed to fill out a questionnaire including questions about the family, mental and physical health, relationships with people, life experiences, preferences and inclinations. This made it possible for researchers to exclude people with a criminal past or with psychopathology. One or two experimenters talked to each applicant. As a result, 24 people were selected, which seemed to be the most stable mentally and physically, the most mature, and also the least capable of antisocial behavior. Several people for one reason or another refused to participate in the experiment. The rest were divided by random selection, assigning half the role of "prisoners", and the other half - "supervisors."

Subjects are male students who were in the summer at or near Stanford. They were for the most part well-off white (except for one Asian). They did not know each other before participating in the experiment.

The roles of the "prisoner" and "supervisor"

Stanford prison experiment simulated prison conditions - "prisoners" were in prison all day and night. In random order, they were assigned to cells, each of which had 3 people. "Overseers" worked in the eight-hour shift, also for three. They were in prison only during the shift, and at other times were engaged in ordinary affairs.

In order for the "supervisors" to behave in accordance with their true reactions to prison conditions, they were given minimal instructions. However, physical punishment was strictly forbidden.

Placement in prison

The subjects, who were to become prisoners, were unexpectedly "arrested" in their homes. They were told that they were detained on suspicion of armed robbery or burglary, notified of their rights, searched, handcuffed and brought to the station. Here they passed the procedures of entering into the file cabinet and taking fingerprints. Each prisoner was stripped naked after his arrival in prison, after which he was treated with a special "lice remedy" (ordinary deodorant) and left alone for a while in a nude. After that, he was given special clothes, photographed and placed in a cell.

"Senior Superintendent" read to "prisoners" the rules that should be followed. With the purpose of depersonalization, each of the "criminals" should have applied only to the number indicated on the form.

Conditions of detention in prison

"Prisoners" received three meals a day, three times a day under the supervision of the jailer could visit the toilet, two hours stood out for writing letters or reading. Two visits were permitted per week, and the right to exercise and watch films was also granted.

"Roll call" first pursued the goal to make sure that all "prisoners" were present, to check their knowledge of their numbers and rules. The first roll calls lasted about 10 minutes, however each day their duration increased, and in the end some of them lasted for several hours. "Overseers" changed or completely abolished many items of the daily routine, pre-established. In addition, during the experiment, some privileges were simply forgotten by the staff.

The prison quickly became gloomy and dirty. The right to wash was transformed into a privilege, and it was often denied. In addition, some "prisoners" were even forced to clean their toilets with their bare hands. They removed the mattresses from the "bad" cell, and the prisoners found themselves forced to sleep on the concrete floor. Often in punishment refused to eat.

The first day was relatively calm, but the second one broke out a riot. To suppress it, the "guards" volunteered for overtime work. They attacked the "prisoners" with fire extinguishers. After this incident, the "jailers" tried to squabble the "prisoners" with each other, to divide them, to make them think that among them there are "informers". This had an effect, and in the future there were no such major disturbances.


The Stanford prison experiment has shown that the conditions of imprisonment have a great influence on the emotional state of both supervisors and criminals, as well as interpersonal processes occurring between groups and within them.

In "prisoners" and "supervisors" as a whole there was a pronounced tendency to intensify negative emotions. Their view of life became increasingly grim. "Prisoners" during the experiment more often showed aggression. In both groups, self-esteem decreased as the "prison" behavior was assimilated.

External behavior in general coincided with the mood and personal self-reports of the subjects. "Prisoners" and "guards" established various forms of interaction (negative or positive, offensive or supportive), but their attitude towards each other was actually insulting, hostile, devoid of humanity.

Almost immediately, the "criminals" perceived basically a passive manner of behavior. On the contrary, the warders showed great activity and initiative in all interactions. Their verbal behavior was limited mainly to teams and was extremely impersonal. "Prisoners" knew that they would not tolerate physical violence against them, but aggressive behavior was often observed, especially by the guards . Verbal abuse replaced physical violence and became one of the most common forms of communication between "supervisors" and those who were behind bars.

"Early release"

A vivid demonstration of how conditions affect people is the reactions of the five "prisoners" involved in the Stanford prison experiment of Philip Zimbardo. Because of deep depression, intense anxiety and fury, they had to "free". In the four subjects, the symptoms were similar and began to appear already on the 2nd day of confinement. The other was released after a nervous rash appeared on his body.

Wardens' behavior

The Stanford prison experiment of Philip Zimbardo was completed ahead of schedule in just 6 days, although it was to last two weeks. The remaining "prisoners" were very happy about this. On the contrary, "supervisors" were mostly upset. It seems that they managed to fully enter the role. The "overseers" enjoyed the power they possessed, and they parted with it very reluctantly. However, one of them said that he was afflicted by the suffering of the "prisoners", and that he intended to ask the organizers to make him one of them, but he did not gather. Note that the "supervisors" came to work on time, and several times even volunteered to work overtime, without receiving additional fees.

Individual differences in the behavior of participants

Pathological reactions, which were noted in both groups, speak about the power of social forces acting on us. However, Zimbardo's prison experiment showed that there are individual differences in how people manage to cope with an unusual situation, how successfully they adapt to it. Half of the prisoners sustained an oppressive atmosphere of life in prison. Not all guards were hostile to "criminals". Some played by the rules, that is, they were harsh, but they were just. However, other warders went beyond their role in rough treatment and cruelty towards prisoners.

In general, in six days, half of the participants were brought to the limit by an anti-human attitude. "Overseers" mocked "criminals", did not let go to the toilet, did not allow to sleep. Some prisoners fell into hysterics, others tried to rebel. When Zimbardo's prison experiment went out of control, the researchers continued to observe what was happening until one of the "prisoners" frankly expressed his opinion.

Ambiguous evaluation of the experiment

Zimbardo, thanks to his experiment, became world famous. His research aroused great public interest. However, many scholars reproached Zimbardo for the fact that the experiment was carried out without regard for ethical norms, which can not be put in such extreme conditions for young people. However, the Stanford Humanities Committee approved the study, and Zimbardo himself said that no one could foresee that the guards would be so inhumane.

The American Psychological Association in 1973 confirmed the compliance of the experiment with ethical standards. However, this decision was revised in subsequent years. With the fact that no similar research of people's behavior should be conducted in the future, Zimbardo agreed.

Documentary films were made about this experiment, books were written, and one punk band even named itself in his honor. Until now, it remains a matter of controversy, even among former participants.

Feedback on the experiment of Philip Zimbardo

Philip Zimbardo said that the purpose of the experiment was to study people's reaction to the restriction of freedom. He was much more interested in the behavior of "prisoners" than "supervisors". At the end of the first day, as Zimbardo notes, he thought that the "supervisors" were people with anti-authoritarian thinking. However, after the "prisoners" began to gradually rebel, they began to behave more and more fiercely, forgetting about the fact that this is just a Stanford prison experiment by Philip Zimbardo. Philip's photo is presented above.

The role played by Christina Maslach

Christina Maslach, Zimbardo's wife, was one of the researchers. It was she who asked Philip to stop the experiment. Christina noted that at first she was not going to participate in the study. She did not notice any changes in Zimbardo until she went down to the basement of the prison herself. Christine could not understand how Philip did not understand what nightmare his research had turned into. The girl confessed after many years that it was not so much the kind of participants who forced her to stop the experiment, but how much the person who she was going to get married soon was. Cristina realized that the prisoner of unlimited power and the situation was the one who modeled it. It was Zimbardo who needed most of all to be "spoiled." Lovers never quarreled as on that day. Christina made it clear that if at least another day this experiment continues, she will no longer be able to love her chosen one. The next day, Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment was discontinued, the conclusions of which were so ambiguous.

By the way, Christina in the same year still went for Philip. In the family were born 2 girls. The young father was very interested in his upbringing. Philip seized the topic, far from the prison experiment: how to raise children so that they were not shy. The scientist has developed an impeccable method of combating excessive shyness in the child, which glorified him to the whole world.

The most cruel "warden"

The most cruel "overseer" was Dave Eshelman, who then became the owner of a mortgage business in the city of Saragota. He recalled that he was simply looking for a summer job for himself, and thus became involved in the Stanford prison experiment of 1971. Dave formed a plan, which consisted in the fact that it was necessary to arrange an "action" for the researchers to then write articles. Therefore, Eshelman deliberately became rude, trying to make interesting the Stanford prison experiment of 1971. It was not difficult for him to reincarnate, because he studied at a theater studio and had a great acting experience. Dave notes that he, it can be said, conducted his experiment in parallel. Eshelman wanted to find out how much he would be allowed to before the decision was made to stop the investigation. However, no one stopped him in cruelty.

Review of John Mark

Another "supervisor," John Mark, who studied anthropology at Stanford, has a slightly different view of the Stanford prison experiment. The conclusions to which he came are very interesting. He wanted to be a "prisoner," but he was made a "superintendent." John noted that during the day nothing was causing the caller, but Zimbardo was struggling to make the situation tense. After the "warders" began to wake up the "prisoners" at night, it seemed to him that this was already crossing all bounds. Mark himself did not like to wake them up and demand calling numbers. John noted that he does not consider the Zimbardo Stanford experiment to be anything serious, relevant to reality. For him, participation in it was nothing more than a hassle. After the experiment, John worked in a medical company as an encryptor.

The opinion of Richard Yakko

Richard Yakko had to visit the role of a prisoner. After participating in the experiment, he worked on television and radio, taught in high school. Let us also describe his view of the Stanford prison experiment. The analysis of his participation in it is also very curious. Richard noted that the first thing that confused him was that "prisoners" were prevented from sleeping. When they were awakened for the first time, Richard did not suspect that only 4 hours had passed. The prisoners were forced to do the exercises, and then allowed to lie down again. And only then did Yakko realize that this was supposed to violate the natural cycle of sleep.

Richard says he does not remember when exactly the "prisoners" started to riot. He himself refused to obey the guard, knowing that because of this, he could be taken to solitary confinement. The solidarity of the "prisoners" is explained by the fact that only together it is possible to somehow resist and complicate the work of "supervisors".

When Richard asked what should be done to be released ahead of schedule, the researchers said that he himself had agreed to participate, so he must remain until the end. It was then that Richard felt that he was in prison.

However, he was still released the day before the end of the study. The Commission, during the Stanford prison experiment, felt that Richard was about to break. It seemed to him that he was far from being depressed.

The purity of the experiment, the use of the results obtained

Note that the people involved in the Stanford prison experiment, reviews about him left ambiguous. Dual is the attitude to Zimbardo, and Christine is considered a hero and a savior. However, she herself is sure that she did not do anything special - she simply helped her chosen one to see herself from the side.

The results of the experiment were subsequently used to demonstrate humility and receptivity of people when there is a justifying ideology supported by the state and society. In addition, they serve as an illustration to two theories: the influence of authority authority and cognitive dissonance.

So, we told you about the Stanford prison experiment of Professor F. Zimbardo. Your business is to decide how to treat it. In conclusion, we add that, based on it, Mario Giordano, an Italian writer, in 1999 created a story called "Black Box". This work was later screened in two films. In 2001, the "Experiment", a German film, was shot, and in 2010 the American tape of the same name appeared.

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