The Stanford Prison Experiment was created by Professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University back in 1971. This famous experiment is one of my personal favorite experiments because as Saul McLeod put it “Zimbardo was interested in finding out whether the brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the sadistic personalities of the guards (i.e., dispositional) or had more to do with the prison environment (i.e., situational)” (McLeod). It was to see the psychological effects the participants had if they were to have any inside of a prison environment. The experiments timeline was supposed to last two weeks, but the experiment was called off after six days after what they had found out.
Zimbardo created this experiment with twenty-four physically and psychologically fit males that were chosen to participate. Each participant was warned that they would be going to simulate a prison-like environment for a total of two weeks, and that they would have the roles of prisoners and guards. Professor Zimbardo acted as the Prison Warden and oversaw the experiment.
The prisoners were to be confined to the “prison” for the duration of the experiment. They were given prison clothes, had been chained at the ankles, and even numbers assigned to them. The guards were allowed to work in teams and had formed shift. When the guards weren’t working, they were allowed time off and left the prison to go about their life. Before the experiment had started, the guards were given the rule to not physically harm the prisoners.
The first day was routine which is expected because everyone is getting the routine down, but the second day everything started to turn. There was a riot. The guards attempted to try and take control by using fire extinguishers and psychological attacking the prisoners. Thirty-six hours had finally passed, and that’s when one of the prisoners started experiencing mental breakdown and was finally released. As the days went by the participants grew more into their characters and even Zimbardo himself had taken more shape of a prison warden. The sixth day was when the experiment was terminated after a student had explained that this had gone too far.
I think Zimbardo had found what he was looking for. After twenty-four hours had passed the participants had started taking their roles very seriously. The only limitations he had on the guards that they weren’t allowed to physically harm the prisoners and to maintain the prison, just like in the real world. The guards had found other means to break the prisoners down so they can conform to the rules. Richard Yacco, one of the participants that took the role of a prisoner, had this to say about the experiment, “I think a big reason is what the prison study shows—they fall into the role their society has made for them” (Yacco, Ratnesar). The only problem that this experiment had was the ethical side. The method he used had raised some questions, but my opinion is that it was better this way because life in prison isn’t protected. There are way more uncontrolled variables that could not be simulated because of ethical issues, but the participants should have been warned and had contracts or forms to read over first.