Psychology of Human Relations
Stanford Prison Experiment
March 1, 2011
The Stanford Prison Experiment was to study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University in August 1971. Twenty-four students were selected after tests and background checks deemed them mentally healthy, free of medical disabilities and history of crime or drug abuse. All 24 students selected were healthy, intelligent, middle-class males. Randomly ½ were assigned as prisoners and the other ½ prison guards. The ‘prison’ was set up to look just like an actual prison with small cells. The prisoners were arrested and booked just alike an actual criminal. The arrestees were left feeling confused, fearful and dehumanized. Once at the prison, they were held for 24 hours a day in cells with no clocks or view of the outside world. They also wore specific uniforms consisting of a smock with a prisoner ID number, no underclothes, a woman’s stocking on their head as a cap and a heavy chain on their right ankles. The clothing was meant to emasculate the prisoners.
The guards were dressed in uniforms as well. Their uniforms were khaki, a whistle around their neck and mirrored sunglasses to prevent any eye contact. During the course of the study they guards were given no specific training – they were free to do whatever they felt necessary to maintain law and order in the prison. Unlike the prisoners who played the role of prisoner 24 hours a day, the guards had 8 hour shifts. One example of how they exercised their role of power was to awake the prisoners at 2:30 am with whistles for a “count” One example of how the guards punished the prisoners was by making them do pushups.
After a rebellion by the prisoners early in the experiment, the guards had to come up...
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