Zimbardo Et Al Study (1974) - Stanford Prison Study

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Zimbardo Study Method

  • Male psychology students volunteered to be participants in the study at Stanford University.
  • They randomly allocated into two seperate groups - prisoners and prison guards.
  • Prisoners: Spend two weeks locked in cells in a wing of the university
  • Prison Guards: To look after the prisoners and keep them under control
  • Prisoners arrested at home unexpectantly and taken to the university, stripped, deloused and given prison uniforms + numbers
  • Prisoners to spend 23 hours locked in their cells a day
  • Prison guards given uniforms with sticks and sunglasses
  • Prison guards worked shifts and went home after shifts
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2. Zimbardo Study Results

  • Called off after 6 days
  • Guards became brutal
  • Two prisoners had some form of mental breakdown
  • One prisoner developed a nervous rash
  • One prisoner went on a hunger strike
  • Guards gave orders and prisoners became apathetic - did as they were told, though it caused them distress
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3. Zimbardo Study Conclusion

  • Conformed to social roles expected of them - prison guards and prisoners
  • Deindividualisation - Immersed in the norms of the group, lose sense of identity
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4. Zimbardo Study Method Pros + Cons


  • Maintained a degree of control and ecological validity
  • Zimbardo collected data efficiently


  • Unrepresentative Sample - 24 healthy, male students, middle-class and white
  • Lacks ecological validity - Couldn't be complete validity
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5. Zimbardo Study Ethics

  • Deception - Didn't expect to get arrested at home
  • Experiment was abandoned after 6 days
  • Approval for the study was given by the Office of Naval Research
  • No suitable alternative methodologies
  • Extensive group + individual debriefing sessions were held
  • Benefits gained about understanding human behaviour
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