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Stanford Prison Experiment

Stanford Prison Experiment Summary and Critique of The Stanford Prison Experiment The Stanford Prison Experiment of 1973 raises troubling questions about the ability of individuals to exist repressive or obedient roles, if the social setting requires these roles. Philip K. Zimbardo, professor of Psychology at Stanford University, began researching how prisoners and guards assume submissive and authoritarian roles. He set out to do this by placing advertisements in a local newspaper, stating that male college students would be needed for a study of prison life paying fifteen dollars per day for one to two days. Of the seventy-five responses, twenty-one were selected, half of them as “guards” (Zimbardo p. 364) and the other half as “prisoners.” (Zimbardo p.

364) Philip Zimbardo’s primary goal in this experiment was to find out the process when prisoners and guards become controlling and passive. He did this by setting up a mock prison in which all of the prisoners were assigned the same uniforms and cells, and used numbers instead of names. The guards were assigned uniforms and offices, somewhat similar to the prisoners except they were equipped with billy clubs, whistles, handcuffs, and keys, and had freedom. These conditions allowed a setting similar to prisons; this also allowed everyone to be stripped of identifying characteristics, therefore “equal.” One of Philip Zimbardo’s claims was the “process” of becoming a prisoner. In this process, all of the applicants were arrested, read their rights, and charged with a felony.

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After they were taken down to the station to be fingerprinted, each prisoner was left isolated to wonder what he did. After a while, he was blindfolded and transported to the “Stanford County Prison.” Here, he was stripped naked, skin-searched, deloused and given a uniform, bedding, soup, and a towel. In this “mock prison” (Zimbardo p. 365) “prisoners” lost their liberty, civil rights, independence and privacy, while “guards” gain social power by accepting the responsibility for controlling the lives of their dependent charges. In the mock prison, inverse psychological relationships developed between prisoners and guards. Prisoners began to feel that there was no way to beat the system.

They felt that it is better to do nothing, except what the guards told them. They didn’t want, act, or feel anything so they wouldn’t get in trouble. Guards, on the other hand, assumed authority roles to control the prisoners and keep the prison in order. Some of the guards reacted extremely, and behaved with hostility and cruelty towards the prisoners. Others, however, were kinder, and occasionally did favors for the prisoners and didn’t punish them as much.

On the morning of the second day of the experiment, the prisoners broke out in a rebellion. They barricaded themselves in their cells by pushing their cots up against the cell doors; they also proceeded to curse and jeer at the prison guards. The guards regained control of the prison by spraying fire extinguishers on the prisoners and stripping them of their clothing. The guards also forced the leaders of the riot into solitary confinement. Following the riot, the prisoners were more compliant to the rules the guards laid out for them. There was never another united uprising by the prisoners against their authority figures, the guards.

After the prisoners had accepted and fully assumed their roles, they suffered a loss of identity. This led the prisoners to not relate with one another on a personal level; it caused them to try and survive in their environment and concentrate on their personal well being. Eventually the prisoners became like sheep trying to survive and stay out of trouble. They lost the need to relate to others and have social relationships. With this loss of normal relationships entailing personal connections and social connections they lost respect for one another.

There are some reasons that people voluntarily become prisoners. “Some people choose to remain prisoners so that we do not have to be responsible for our actions.” (Zimbardo p.375) I agree with this statement, because it somewhat relates to the workforce in America. Some people get paid in commission, or how much work they accomplish, and others get paid by the hour. In some cases, the people that get paid by the hour wish to not have a lot of actions to be responsible for, and choose to get told what to do, rather than figure it out themselves. In conclusion, the mind can actually keep people in jail.

This happens because people get so associated with what is going on inside, such as escape plans, how horrible the food is, tactics to convince specific guards with to get a cigarette, permission to use the bathroom, or some other favor, that they forget about what happens outside. They forget about what the past was like, and what the future could be, but instead focus on the situation at hand. This proves that people don’t have to be physically in jail to be mentally confined. In my opinion, I think that this experiment was very unjust. I think this because the environment wasn’t properly set.

In the prison there were no windows, and other environmental factors, and the guards were not trained properly. Since the guards were picked at random, and had the same expertise as the prisoners had regarding punishment. Therefore, the prisoners were not treated properly, adding to the environmental defects. Finally, I think that this experiment could be perfected if true inmates, guards, and prisons were used. Bibliography Zimbardo, Philip K. “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum.

7th Edition. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. New York: Longman, 2000. 363 – 375.


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