Stanford Prison Study - A Shocking Experiment
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Stanford Prison Study – A Shocking Experiment

From Aug 14 to 21, 1970, the Stanford prison study (01) which was designed to investigate the psychological effects of perceived authority on people took place. Initially designated for two weeks, the study had to end abruptly after 6 days. This was because it rapidly deteriorated into a terrible situation riddled with mental breakdowns, abuse of authority, and sheer cruelty.

It started when a group of students heeded the call of the lead researcher, Professor Philip Zimbardo during their holidays (02). They were to receive $15 for each day. They had previously participated in physical and psychological assessments to ascertain their fitness for the experiment. This was what they had to do- A group of them would be equally divided into two groups. The first group was prisoners. The other group was prison wardens. Both groups were to act in ways befitting of their roles. The site of the experiment was a makeshift prison in a basement.

The wardens were given khaki shirts and pants, mirrored sunglasses, and wooden batons to fit into their roles. The prisoners wore ill-fitting smocks and stocking caps with a chain around one ankle. The guards were instructed to only use psychological means in their capacities. They were not to harm any prisoner physically or withhold food and drink. They could only call prisoners by their assigned numbers.

The first day went uneventful. The guards found it difficult to play their roles and the prisoners kept their cool. The next day, some prisoners began to revolt against the guards. The guards interpreted this as an affront to their authority and things took a downward spiral from that moment on. Before long, guards were torturing the prisoners by stripping them naked, refusing them food, and interrupting their sleep. Prisoners were attacked with fire extinguishers and punished with solitary confinement.

Things took a turn for the worse when a prisoner broke down. It was at this point that Christina Maslach (Prof Zimbardo’s girlfriend and a former graduate student) stepped in. She saw what was happening in the basement, accused the Prof of inhumane acts and this jolted him back to reality. The experiment ended.

Today, reactions continue to trail the notorious experiment. Many believe that the study was ethically wrong and had no scientific basis. Since then, ethical guidelines (03) have been established for experiments involving human subjects.

References for further reading:

01. 2020. Stanford Prison Experiment Retrieved 29 November 2020 from

02. BBC News. 2020. Stanford Prison Experiment Continues To Shock. Retrieved 29 November 2020 from

03. 2020. Guidelines For Human Subject Research. Retrieved 29 November 2020 from