Zimbardo prison experiment

  • Created by: dan9974
  • Created on: 04-06-17 16:07


  • To investigate the extent to which people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner
  • To test the dispositional vs Situational hypotheses that saw prison violence as either due to the sadistic personalities of guards and prisoners, or to the brutal conditions of the prison environment.
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The guards showed violent and dehumanising towards the prisoners they also de-individualised the prisoners by ********* them of their identity. They also showed diffusion of responsibility this is because there were so many guards not one of them took responsibility for the actions of others.

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The prisoners showed learned helplessness which is where they learned to do nothing as whatever they did they got abused for. So they became obedient to whatever the guards wanted.

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  • Only 10% of the time were prisoners’ conversations about life outside of the prison.  The guards, too, rarely exchanged personal information during their relaxation breaks - they either talked about ‘problem prisoners’, other prison topics, or did not talk at all.  

  • As the prisoners became more submissive the guards became more aggressive
  • The prisoners depended on the guards for everything so tried to please them
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The situational hypothesis is the accepted one due to the fact that none of the pt's had ever shown these traits before the study.

Individual will conform readily to social roles even if it goes against their morals or beliefs

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Informed consent was not given as the pt's were not fully briefed about the entire experiment for example they were not told that they would be arrested from their houses by a real police officer. Rights to withdraw were also comprimised this is because Zimbardo took the role of the Prison Warden so was in role and treated the pt's like real prisoners rather than pt's. This means that the study contained many ethical dilemmas.

However Zimbardo defends the ethics. The only deception involved was to do with the arrest at the beginning of the experiment.The pt's were not told this partly because final approval from the police wasn't given until minutes before the pt's decided to participate, and partly because Zimbardo wanted this to come as a surprize (to reduce demand characteristics) This means that the study can be seen as ethical.

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The sample

The sample of the experiment was unrepresentative. This is because it was only 24 males from Stanford University. Students tend to be fairly intellgent, a similar age and have limited life experiences. This means that it's hard to generalise the results of the study to the wider population.

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Ecological validity

The study lacked ecological vailidity. This is because many of the particularly unpleasent parts of prison's were absent such as racism, threat to life and involuntary homosexuality. and the maximum sentence was a mere 2 weeks. This means that the results lack credibility.

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