Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted in 1971 by a team of researchers led by Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University. Twenty-four undergraduates were selected out of over 75 to play the roles of both guards and prisoners and live in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Roles were assigned at random. They adapted to their roles well beyond that expected, leading the guards to display to authoritarian and even draconian measures. Two of the prisoners were upset enough by the process to quit the experiment early, and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days. The experimental process and the results remain controversial. The entire experiment was filmed, with excerpts soon made publicly available, leaving some disturbed by the resulting film. Over 30 years later, Zimbardo found renewed interest in the experiment when the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal occurred.


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