The Stanford Prison Experiment - 1973

In 1973, Zimbardo designed an experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment. This experiment was designed to show conformity to social roles, this is a an example of normative influence. Volunteers were given authority and asked to act as guards over other volunteers who were prisoners.


Aim and Participants (Method)

His aim was to see the psychological effects of making 'normal', 'good' people into prisoners or guards.

He used 24 middle class, male college students, mentally sound in tests with no criminal records.

They were paid $15 per day and divided into prisoners or guards by the flip of a coin.

The guards were subjected to anonymity as they were referred to as ‘Mr Correctional Officer’ rather than by name and the prisoners were referred to by number rather then their names.

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The prisoners began to suffer a wide array of humiliations and punishments at the hands of the guards, and many began to show signs of mental and emotional distress.

On the 2nd day of the experiment, the prisoners organized a mass revolt and riot, as a protest about the conditions.

Guards worked extra hours and devised a strategy to break up and put down the riot, using fire-extinguishers.

No prompt for this action was given by Zimbardo; the guards used their own initiative to formulate the plan.

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Implications and Result

The Stanford Prison Experiment showed that one third of the guards began to show an extreme and imbedded streak of ******, and Zimbardo himself started to become internalized in the experiment.

Two of the prisoners had to be removed early because they were showing real signs of emotional distress.

This experiment was meant to last 14 days, but Zimbardo had to stop on the sixth day.

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