Zimbardo Prison Experiment

In the field of psychology, experiments are an essential part of the study. Guidelines have been fenced around the experiments to protect the subjects being tested. Unethical experiments had to take place in order for these guidelines to be placed. In 1971, Psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment that changed the future of psychology and how it is practiced today, The Stanford Experiment. According to Kendra Cherry, author of an article The Stanford Experiment, researchers asked how subjects would react when placed in a prison environment.

The experiment took place in the basement of the Psychology department in Stanford University and selected 24 undergraduate students out of 70 volunteers due to their lack of psychological issues and had no criminal record. Zimbardo paid each of the 24 participants 15 dollars a day in a span of one to two weeks. The 24 volunteers were randomly assigned to play a role as either a guard or a prisoner. The cell was made up of three prison cells, each one holding three mock prisoners. The guards chosen had to work in an eight hour shift alongside two other participants.

The guards chosen have their own cell to themselves and one small room for solitary confinement. Kendra Cherry stated in her article that, “According to Zimbardo and his colleagues, the Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrates the powerful role that the situation can play in human behavior” (Cherry). The volunteers for this experiments took on their role almost instantaneously. Prior to the experiment, the subjects selected to play the prisoners were arrested from their home, unwarned, and taken to the mock prison.

According to Saul Mcleod, author of Zimbardos: Prison Experiment, “Here they were treated like every other criminal. They were fingerprinted, photographed and ‘booked’. Then they were blindfolded and driven to the psychology department of Stanford University, where Zimbardo had had the basement set out as a prison, with barred doors and windows, bare walls and small cells. Here the deindividuation process began” (Mcleod). The guards were assigned khaki uniforms, whistles and dark glasses to prevent eye contact with prisoners.

The guards were assigned to the prison by shifts and the experiment began. The subjects then seemed to have accepted their role completely. While blinded the guards stripped the cloths of the prisoners and gave them prison cloths and escorted to the cell. According to Mcleod’s article, within hours the guards started harassing the prisoners. The guards dehumanized the prisoners giving them pointless orders to accomplish and insulting them. At the same time, the prisoners also started to conform to their roles.

They obeyed orders, scared, and sided with guards to get other prisoners in trouble. As the prisoners became more submissive to the guards , the guards in return became more aggressive demanding more obedience from the prisoners. Within 36 hours of the experiment, a prisoner was sent home because of uncontrollable screaming and crying. In the next couple days of the experiment, three more subjects were let go because of symptoms of depression. The experiment only lasted six days with the fear of subjects getting permanent physical and mental damage.