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The Stanford Prison Experiment- 1973

Whenever there is a discussion about human behavior, The Stanford Prison Experiment is always used as an example.
Stanford Prison Experiment
stanford prison experiment

Whenever there is a discussion about human behavior, The Stanford Prison Experiment is always used as an example. Although this experiment was often criticized for its ethical flaws and I don’t want to go into them. This article is about that experiment, and it’s findings only. There is also a movie adaption of this experiment with the same name.

The Background

Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues at Stanford wanted to know the reason behind the brutality of prison guards towards the prisoners, whether it is related to personality or because of the prison environment.

For this experiment, a mock prison is being created in the basement of Stanford University Psychological building basement. Then they run an ad. in paper to get volunteers, and 75 applications were received. Out of those 75, they have selected 24 most suited for this experiment. Now point to be noted here is that they have eliminated all others based upon any personality disorder, criminal history, or drug abuse. So the 24 which are selected are mature and stable.

The participant didn’t know each other prior and was paid 15$ per day.

The Experiment

The group was divided into two parts prison guards and prisoners, with one person, dropped out, there were ten prisoners and 11 guards.

One morning the ten prisoners were arrested from there homes and were produced to police; from there, they were taken to test prison with there eyes closed. When they arrived at the prison, they were given the same treatment as actual prison, given prison clothes and bedding. The prisoners were supposed to remain in cells for 24 hours. The prisoners were given numbers as an identity and are to be called using those numbers.

The guards were given 8-hour duty in three shifts, were given the clothing and accessories similar to the prison guards. They were given sunglasses to make eye contact with prisoners impossible.

Zimbardo himself became the prison guard to observe the behavior of prisoners and guards.

The Outcome

This experiment was to run for two weeks, but they have to stop within six days only. The reason was the change in the behavior of persons playing guards and prisoners. Let me summarize them to essential points.

a. Guards: The guards were not given any prior training, but they were free to do anything they feel right to maintain law and order. Within the hours of starting the experiment, the guards have started harassing the prisoners. The prisoners were awakened by blasting whistles.

They started setting their laws, and usually discuss the prison situation. The prisoners were scolded, taunted, and were given small orders. They were also given physical punishments. Once the visiting hour is organized, and guards feared that the parents might take there, sons home after looking at the prison conditions. So they cleaned the prison, gave good food to prisoners, and played songs for them.

b. Prisoners: At first, the prisoners were casual, but shortly, they started adopting the prison situation. They started following the rules seriously. There was a rebellion against guards on the second day. Slowly the prisoners started being submissive to the guards. Some of them began to being close to them for privileges.

Some of the prisoners started feeling the stress and rage, uncontrollable crying, and discuss only life after prison and how to get out.


Due to the emotional breakdown of prisoners and the brutality of guards, the experiment was stopped after six days.

Christian Maslach brought in to interview on the sixth day, and she objected to what is happening.

Zimbardo himself carried away by his role as the prison warden and quoted that.

It wasn’t until much later that I realized how far into my prison role I was at that point – that I was thinking like a prison superintendent rather than a research psychologist.

Watch the post-experiment interviews.
Visit for more details.

Over to you: In just six days, the stable people started behaving like they were the prisoner or guards. The guards began using the power even if there was no need, but they know what is expected of them as prison guards. Ever experienced someone changed completely when given power? Or a kid behaving in a certain way because his parents think of him in that way.

What I think is that people get carried away by the roles society gives them. And sometimes the label we give certain people does make them behave like that. So try not to label people through there behavior, try to bring them back to there true self.

Stay Safe, Do comment if there is something worth commenting otherwise cheers.


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