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The Stanford Prison Experiment; Its implications and ethicality

Imagine if you were incarcerated for two weeks with your fellow classmates being the ones that dictated your own liberty, that’s basically the premise of this experiment.


The Standford Prison Experiment (as it states in it’s name) was held in the Standford basement in 1971 and has been known to be highly controversial in regards to its credibiltity and how it doesn’t abide to modern ethic codes. Their goal was to understand how situational variables (like being put in a makeshift prison) will change their reaction and behaviours.


There were 12 students chosen to be prisoners and 12 to be prison guards. The prisoners were stripped of their clothes, forced to wear shackles and only adressed as their prison numbers. Not only were they adressed inferiorly but also got abused by the guards. The guards controlled the food rations the prisoners would receive as well as limit their access to bathrooms. The conditions were so horrible that a multitude of “prisoners” got increased levels of anxiety. This led to the experiement ending on day 6 as opposed to day 14.


Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, the conductor of this experiment reached the conclusion that if people had anonymity and some type of power over people, they could easily become evil and abuse the people around them. He believed that this type of sadism that the guards had, unfolded naturally once put in the correct environment.


There is another theory suggested by Ben Blum that the guards had guessed what type of hypothesis Dr. Zimbardo had posed and felt this obligation to follow through with it. They are now more motivated to give the experimenters what they want. It was also proven that the guards were told by their superiors to act more tough and violently further affirming Ben Blums theory. If told by a superior that this is what they needed to do in order for a better experiment, there is no other choice but to oblige.


This renders the experiment unreliable as the results and the way the experiment was conducted is not accurate at all. This experiment doesn’t only not pass the accuracy test, but also the morality one.


The whole experiment had too many independent variables like how a grand majority of the students were white middle class males. This would only allow it to be applicable to their specific group. It also obviously lacked realism as you cannot perfectly replicate a prison environment.


The Standford Prison Experiment still holds large amounts of influence all over the world being shown in psychology textbooks as well as being used in trials. For this reason, it is important to question the accuracy of this experiment while moving forward in matters involving proving someones innocence or teaching future psychologists.




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