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Zimbardo’s Infamous Prison Experiment: Where the Key Players Are Now

It’s arguably one of the most controversial experiments.

It all started in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford University on August 17, 1971 after psychologist Phil Zimbardo and colleagues took an ad out in the paper stating: “Male college students needed for psychological study of prison life. $15 per day for 1-2 weeks.”

Over 70 people volunteered for the Stanford Prison Experiment. Twenty-four healthy, smart college-aged men were picked and randomly assigned either to be a guard or a prisoner. The aim of the study was to explore the psychology of prison life and how specific situations affect people’s behavior.

But the experiment didn’t last very long — six days to be exact. Zimbardo was forced to pull the plug because of the disturbing behavior of the guards and the downright despair and other negative reactions of the prisoners.

5 Comments to
Zimbardo’s Infamous Prison Experiment: Where the Key Players Are Now

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  1. From what is can gather from this experiment i have to agree with John Mark. Phil Zimbardo was part of the experiment and shouldn’t have been. This study has been given too much credit misleading and with great fear used as expert evidence in a court of law.

  2. Excellent post. On the 40-year anniversary of SPE this month, Dr. Z offered a series of personal, first-hand recollections of the experiment on his Heroic Imagination Project Facebook page at:

  3. I disagree with the person who stated that nobody suffered in the long term from this experience. That’s just a way for this person to justify their actions and avoid the guilt of what they did. It’s sickening to hear that one guard treated this as theatre.

  4. Eshelman’s abusive guard reports: “…the other guards didn’t stop me. They seemed to join in. They were taking my lead. Not a single guard said, “I don’t think we should do this.” But far from upper-middle class, 1960s California, 21st century Syrian troops, many college-age, are right now refusing to fire on unarmed civilians. Zimbardo’s Guards and Prisoners game, far from “Revealing the Secret and Shocking Inhumanity in Us All” – is a cliched story line acted out by silly, spoiled, melodramatic, well-fed boys.

  5. I think there are far reaching implications that came from this experiment that haven’t been explored. It ranks up there with one of the greatest advances in human understanding.

    Ironically, as Susan pointed out people try to “justify” their behaviors. In wars it is necessary to get the soldiers and their families to dehumanize the enemy. Whether they are “Krauts”, “Japs”, “Slant eyes”, or “Charlie”, “gooks”, or “rice eaters” the point is encouraged and the same. in 2005 I sat in class with a few soldiers who had served in Iraq and heard the soldiers who were commissioned with the “humanitarian mission” of freeing the Iraqis people calling them “towel heads”, “camel jockeys”, and “Sand n!@@3rs”. We all saw the photos from Abu Grab. This experiment shows that is some powerful psychology that our leadership dabbles with and propagates into our military mentality.

    That is just one aspect insinuated by this work. Another would be the merit of “karma” and “the golden rule”. Yet another might be to consider the results of this experiment and America’s obsessions with being “fans” of sports teams. Another would be social status and the affect in public schools. 40 years later and it seems this raw data has went basically unreferenced.



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