Conformity to social roles as investigated by Zimbardo


Zimbardo set up a mock prison in the basement of the psychology department of Stanford University. They advertised for students to volunteer and only selected those deemed “emotionally stable” after extensive psychological testing. The students that were successful were randomly assigned to the role of guard or prisoner. In order to increase the realism of the study, the “prisoners” were arrested in their homes by the local police and delivered to the “prison”. They were blindfolded, *****-searched and issued a uniform with a number (their names were never used). The social roles within the prison were strictly divided – the guards patrolled in groups of three and enforced the 16 rules that the prisoners were supposed to follow. They also strictly regulated the prisoners` days. The guards were also issued with a uniform and were told that they had total control over the prisoners.


The investigation was a slow starter, but eventually the guards took up their roles with enthusiasm – to the extent that their behaviour became a threat to the prisoners` psychological and physical health. The study was subsequently stopped after 6 days rather than 14. Within two days the prisoners began to rebel against their harsh treatment and the guards deployed a “divide-and-conquer” tactics by playing the prisoners off against each other, harassing them constantly to remind them that they were under constant surveillance. The guards highlighted the differences in social roles by creating plenty of chances to enforce the rules and punish even the smallest misdemeanour. Following the quashing of the rebellion, the prisoners became subdued, depressed and anxious. One prisoner was


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Social Influence resources »