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The Stanford Prison Experiment: Part 1

Written by Sabrina Aezaz and Mahee Mishra

Edited by Jocelyn wang and Sharon Park

Hi everyone! This article on the Stanford Prison Experiment is the third article in our Social Psychology series, written by Sabrina Aezaz and Mahee Mishra. Read on to learn about the terrors of the Stanford Prison Experiment on its participants, and the ethical dilemma behind it.


Phillip Zimbardo is one of the most influential psychologists in today’s history. He studied a variety of different subjects such as socialization, shyness, and most importantly social conformity, which included the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. The Stanford Prison Experiment was created to examine psychological effects on people after they were put into positions of authority or powerlessness in different environments.

Philip Zimbardo

In this specific experiment, the environment was a prison cell. Although the experiment could have been tested with different environments, the prison cell was selected with the purpose of understanding the psychology behind imprisonment (a topic taught in class at Stanford University). The ideology being tested was an individual’s conformity to social norms (for example, the prison guards were given the roles of authority in comparison to the prisoners). This experiment did provide a lot of information to psychologists and the study of psychology in general, but this experiment was highly unethical due to its dehumanizing effects towards the participants involved.

The experiment was originally intended to go on for two weeks, but the mistreatment of the prisoners was taken too far to be conducted for the entire two weeks span, leading to the experiment being cut short to six days. The experiment was conducted by selecting twenty-four men who were mentally and physically fit and giving them the roles of prison guards and prisoners. It is important to take into account that the prison guards were specifically told not to abuse the prisoners, but in the end, they turned out to do exactly that. After some time, prison guards created the rewards/punishments system in the prison cell to “manage” the prisoners and eventually this got too traumatizing for some prisoners, making them withdraw from the experiment.

However, this was not the end.

Read Part 2 to find out what happened next in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

See you back at Part 2,

Sabrina and Mahee

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