The Stanford Prison Experiment: Description, Key Findings, and Results


In the year 1971, Philip Zimbardo decided to conduct a trial known as The Stanford Prison Experiment. The research permits university students to act as criminals or prison guards within a jail setting. The goal of the test is to demonstrate how persons would adjust to the characters of prisoners as well as guards in a fascinating jail environment. Consequently, Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford social psychology professor, sought to learn more about social roles, behaviors, and how they affect people. He wanted to know what happens to an individual when they are a difficult situation, or when the role they have been learning their whole lives is reversed. Throughout this experimentation, the characters will show how the security officers in the prison treat American prisoners of war severely because of their violent conduct, which is a result of the situation’s environment. Guards will abuse prisoners in the end; thus, people should not be forced to adjust to duties they do not like. The jail environment has transformed the guards’ character, causing them to react brutally against the prisoners’ rebellion, according to this study. Thus, this experiment can linked to the behavioral psychological perspective as demonstrated below.


In 1971, Stanford University’s Dr. Phillip Zimbardo and his team mates performed the Stanford Prison Experiment. This experiment was conducted in a secure, simulated jail environment to properly appreciate the formation of the impact of labels and conventions, stereotypes, as well as societal standards on an individual. Dr. Zimbardo and his associates were particularly interested in determining whether the claimed harshness of the prison system was due to the guards’ personalities or the prison environment itself. This experiment is related to the behavioral psychology perspective. According to this viewpoint, an individual’s conduct and learning may be defined by their interactions with their immediate surrounding. Furthermore, people’s activities are always reactions to circumstances, either spontaneously or as a result of a trained response.

Sequence of the experiment

Dr. Zimbardo was originally seeking for participants for research on the psychological impacts of imprisonment. Professional judgment and personality tests were administered to 75 volunteers who were interested in the study to screen out those with a history of mental issues, drug addiction, criminality, or medical limits. Twenty-four of the seventy-five boys who volunteered were chosen as the most mentally and physically stable. The twenty-four men were then assigned at random to the positions of jail guard or prisoner, with two men held behind in case one of them failed to appear.

At the outset of the experiment, the participants assigned to the role of the prisoner are treated the same as any other criminal. They were arrested in their houses and transported without notice to the local police unit. They were detained, their fingerprints taken, they were photographed, and imprisoned in the same manner as any other criminals. These individuals were then blindfolded and escorted from the police station to Stanford University’s sociology department, a site that was transformed into a temporary jail. The prisoners were stripped naked, their personal properties were taken away, and were ordered to wear prisoners clothing. The inmates were then confined in separate cells when they arrived at the makeshift prison. After the formal booking procedures, these individuals were officially registered as convicts and thereafter they were referred to by their prisoner number rather than their names.

The guards wore khaki uniforms and carried sunglasses, a whistle, and a nightstick. The guards were able to distance themselves from the convicts since the uniform and sunglasses made it impossible for them to initiate or sustain eye contact. Each of the guards was given an eight-hour shift, just like in a real-world situation. The guards began tormenting the captives within a few hours. Whistling in the early morning hours, insulting the inmates, forcing them to do push-ups, and issuing petty instructions were all part of the harassment.

The inmates, on the other hand, started to act like regular inmates. They began to discuss prison problems late at night and began to rebel against the jail keepers. Some inmates even started telling stories, in order to get other convicts into trouble and gain favor with certain guards. Thus, when comparing the previous event to a behavioral perspective, it is noted that the individuals responded collectively, giving up their separate identities to become subservient “inmates” and despotic guards. On the second day of the trial, there was a prison rebellion. The ringleaders of the uprising were held in solitary prison.

Following this insurrection, the interactions between the convicts and the guards began to change (Ilfeld, 2017). The guards became pushier and stronger, while the captives became more obedient. Due to multiple mental breakdowns among the convicts and harsh behavior on the part of the guards, after only six days, the experiment was cancelled, though it was supposed to last two weeks. The experiment was deemed a success by Dr. Zimbardo and his colleagues since they were able to show that people will adapt to the roles or preconceptions that are assigned to them. According to the study, when the guards were given positions of power, they began acting in inappropriate ways. In this recent days most people when given authority they tend to misuse their position by oppressing the civilians. Still, connecting this to behavioral perspective, while it is undeniable that certain guards and convicts acted in worrisome ways, it is equally true that their surroundings was meant to encourage – and, in some circumstances, demand – such violent conduct from both groups of participants.

The Stanford Experiment, on the other hand, looks to be severely defective. A self-fulfilling prophesy occurs when someone expects someone to fit into a specific position or stereotype that was developed specifically for them (Bicchieri & Muldoon, 2017). The participants who acted as guards or prisoners acted in the same way as a genuine intimate or guard would in a real-life circumstance. One of these guards was deliberately acting out his part. One of the night shift guards was dubbed John Wayne by the convicts because he acted like an out-of-control Wild West cowboy. However, some critics have disregarded this guard’s actions as his simply playing the tough guard role. Following the experiment, John Wayne, according to him, his character was inspired by the warden from the film Cool Hand Luke. He stated that he wanted to be a realistic guard, so he offered to lead his night shift in severely punishing inmates (Jones et al., 2017). He did so by punishing detainees with protracted push-ups often with some inmates stomping on the backs of others, restricting food, and imposing arbitrary penalties. This is seen in the article Philip Zimbardo’s reply to current Objections of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Because the majority of volunteers were most likely carry out preconceptions, the Stanford Experiment cannot be used as an illustration of adhering to cultural ideas and how assumptions evolve in communities (Laycock, 2017). While the experiment does provide a fair example of societal roles and preconceptions in the time period in which it was done, it is significantly flawed. As previously stated, the Experiment was deeply flawed. The experiment violated the Nuremberg Code on multiple levels from the start. The Nuremberg Code was enacted to protect human subjects from the cruelty and exploitation that prisoners experienced in concentration camps (Bedaso et al., 2020). The first way this Experiment violated the Nuremberg Code was that Dr. Phillip Zimbardo and his colleagues did not require voluntary consent. Both the guards and the prisoners volunteered for the experiment, but it was clear from watching the video that they quickly realized it was not what they signed up for (Bartels, 2019). There appeared to be no clear guidelines, and the volunteers were free to act in any way they saw fit, that is stripping the inmates naked and selling other inmates to guards.

The Experiment then breached the Nuremberg Code by not being performed in a way that avoided bodily or mental pain or injury to the participants. The early termination of the experiment shows that the emotional and bodily harm exceeded the potential good effects of such a case study (Le Texier, 2019). Volunteer jail guards physically harassed volunteer detainees, which was immoral, and half of the volunteers left the trial early owing to significant emotional or cognitive reactions (Merry, 2017). Both the volunteer prison guards and the prisoners appeared to have had some emotional distress as a result of the experiment, but no long-term effects have been reported as of yet. Relating to this days when humans are left to operate on their own without any rules and guidelines they tend to behave in unusual way.

One of the last ways the Experiment violated the Nuremberg Code was that the risks outweighed any potential advantages of the experiment. The study’s main purpose was just to learn more about how practices are formed and how tags affect them, stereotypes, in a secure, controlled prison setting, and social expectations on an individual (Scott-Bottoms, 2020). Unfortunately, due to the emotional and physical damage suffered by both volunteer prison guards and prisoners, any possible benefits were greatly reduced. Furthermore, because the majority of the participants were acting, any research resulting from the experiment should be contested.

This Experiment breached both the Nuremberg Code and the Belmont Report. The Belmont Report highlights the importance of adhering to basic ethical norms in biomedical and behavioral research with human subjects. The report outlines three key principles: respect for people, beneficence, and justice. One of the primary ways the Stanford Prison Experiment violated the Belmont Report was because Dr. Zimbardo and his colleagues did not respect the volunteers (Zimbardo, 2018). At first, it appeared that the participants were enrolled into the experimental environment without notice, with no safety precautions in place and no instruction from Dr. Zimbardo or his staff. Thus, because of the above indiscretions, both volunteer guards and inmates endured mental and bodily stress as a result. If one is not respected, they tend to suffer a lot either mentally or physically. One must be respected regardless of their position and background.

The Experiment then violated the Belmont Report by failing to be beneficent. Dr. Zimbardo and his colleagues did not downplay any potential risks in the trial (Reicher et al., 2020). As a result, the volunteer guards were able to annoy the volunteer inmates to the point that half of them had to leave the trial early owing to severe emotional or cognitive reactions. The Stanford Prison Experiment’s last infraction of the Belmont Report was a perversion of justice (McLeod, 2018). The rewards and hazards were not equally shared by Dr. Zimbardo and the colleagues. Volunteer security officers appeared to have more authority and control over volunteer detainees, and volunteer detainees had a greater risk of violence. As noted in the preceding paragraphs, more than half of the volunteer convicts left the experiment early, and the experiment was terminated early as well.

The Experiment violates many elements of ethical decision making in the Research paradigm. As noted in the preceding paragraphs, Dr. Zimbardo and his team did not completely disclose the results of the experiment to the subjects. Because the experiment was unanticipated, neither Dr. Zimbardo nor his colleagues knew what would happen (Koca-Atabey, 2020). The volunteers also refused to be detained in their homes. According to this study, this was due to Dr. Zimbardo not receiving permission from the police until minutes before the experiment was to begin, and also because both Dr. Zimbardo and his colleagues intended the arrest to come as a surprise to the participants.

In addition to failing to get informed permission, Dr. Zimbardo and his colleagues failed to protect volunteer participants from psychological and physical injury. One volunteer prisoner, for example, had to be freed from the study after only thirty-six hours owing to uncontrollable bursts of yelling, weeping, and fury (Kulig, 2017). During the prisoner insurrection, volunteer guards sprayed the prisoners with fire extinguishers, yanked the captives from their cell doors, stormed into each cell, stripped them naked, and removed each of their beds. This explains how most of us react, when the pain is too much and one can no longer handle they tend to quit.

The Stanford Prison Experiment, which took place over 50 years ago, is still remembered as one of the most renowned and disputed psychological experiments ever done. What was the situation in Stanford’s virtual prison, and how did the participants react to it. It is often portrayed as a teaching moment of what may happen in the confines of a jail when people are not adequately taught or protected, considering the underlying power imbalances between staff and inmates, but what happened at Stanford’s virtual jail, and how did the participants react. It takes an interactionist approach to gameplay, in which the players’ pasts and personalities are supposed to influence their actions.

In the experiment, the three guard turns differed greatly in terms of how they interacted with and influenced one another (Richter et al., 2018). The study examines how taking a certain social position, in this example, that of a prison guard, causes changes in individual role players’ behavior and beliefs, drawing on theoretical sources such as Goffman and Festinger. The concept aims to demonstrate that some Stanford guards used role-distancing tactics to protect themselves from the job’s severe requirements, while others saw the guard position as detrimental to their principles.

The researchers organized and coordination program for the prison security personnel a day before the Stanford Prison experimentation began, emphasizing their concerns about harsh guard actions, a cavalier attitude among the inmates, and the risk of the trial being adjourned early. Although the study’s chief researcher downplayed its importance, opponents argued it was a recipe for guard harassment. In a hypothetical jail simulation investigation, subjects were assigned as guards to either a Stanford or a basic study material orientation at random. Participants who received the Stanford orientation rather than the control orientation regarded the study’s investigator, others, and themselves as guards to be unfriendly and oppressive. The latest research backs up the idea that the guard training language used in the Stanford jail experiment enhanced guard abuse.

The most of behavioral change, whether good or poor, can be related to a person’s internal, dispositional qualities, based on an individual perspective on human behavior. It is said to be influenced by genes, temperament, personality features, personality disorders, and virtues. A scenario approach, on the other side, focuses on factors outside the individual’s control, such as the behavioral environment at work. Regardless of the fact that human nature is usually the result of a person communication, behavioral theories have uncovered causal inference biases that overvalue dispositional effects while undervaluing situational affects across most of psychology as well as among the wider population.

They claim that this fundamental attribution error causes a misunderstanding of both possible causes and approaches for modifying undesirable behavior patterns. Stanley Milgram’s study was one of the first to show how a huge number of ordinary Americans might be convinced to follow illegitimate authorities and inflict massive amounts the effect of surprise on an unwitting victim. The Stanford Prison Experiment built on the concept by revealing the unanticipated influence of correctional factors regarding the conduct of healthy, ordinary inmates. Philip Zimbardo together with other members of the research team differentiated the natural dispositional features of correctional officials. Thus, numerous prisons are determined by situational characteristics in a study. Zimbardo’s group included Curtis Banks, Craig Haney, David Jaffe, as well as Carlo Prescot, who was an ex-convict consultant. They intended to find out what people behave in jail-like conditions when their possessions are not an issue. They sought to find out how most of the violence as well as other anti-social behavior in reform institutions could be attributed to depraved individuals who finds themselves in prisons or other horrible circumstances that can corrupt even the most ordinary, lovely people’s behavior.

One of the most well-known experiments in psychology is the Stanford prison experiment. This has been called into doubt for a number of reasons, but most writers have overlooked these critiques in any interpretations of the experiment, causing both learners as well as the wider public to be misled regarding the lack of historical credibility of that particular study. Data from a thorough examination of the experiment records, as well as interviews with fifteen of the trial’s participants, call the study’s scientific importance into question. These numbers not only substantiate earlier objections of the experiment, including the appearance of demand characteristics, but also present fresh reasons against the experiments based on previously established facts.


Finally, in relation the behavioral perspective, the majority of those who participated discovered that they could no longer distinguish among role-playing as well as self, and that the encounter of incarceration undid, albeit momentarily, a duration of learning; moral behavior were interrupted, egos were confronted, and the nastiest, most base, psychopathic side of humanity surfaced. In presenting another similar research and its consequences for prison environment, he stated that simply labeling individuals, labeling some as inmates and others as officers, is enough to provoke abnormal conduct.


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PsychologyWriting. 2023. "The Stanford Prison Experiment: Description, Key Findings, and Results." April 5, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "The Stanford Prison Experiment: Description, Key Findings, and Results." April 5, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "The Stanford Prison Experiment: Description, Key Findings, and Results." April 5, 2023.