The aim of this experiment was to investigate how readily people would conform to the roles of guard and prisoner in a role-playing exercise that stimulated prison life.
-They converted a university into a mock prison, where the students either played the roles of the prisoners or the prison guards for a fortnight
-21 male college students, which were chosen from 75 volunteers were screened for psychological normality and were paid $15 per day to take part in the experiment
- Randomly assigned to either the role of prisoner or guar inn a simulated prison environment (this was kept as related to “real life” as possible)
-Prisoners arrested in their homes without warning and then were taken to the ‘police station’
-No physical violence was permitted. The Zimbardo observed the behaviour of the prisoners and guards
-They were treated like every other criminal (Fingerprinted, booked, photographed etc…) they were blindfolded and driven to the psychology department of Stanford university where Zimbardo had the basement set out as a prison (barred doors, windows, bare walls and small cells)
-They had all their possessions removed and locked away
-They were 3 guards: 9 prisoners taking shift of eight hours each
Within a very short time both guards and prisoners were adapting to their roles quickly. Within hours of beginning the experiment some guards began to harass the prisoners. They behaved in a brutal and sadistic manner- enjoying it too. Other guards joined in and other prisoners were also tormented.
The prisoners were taunted with insults and petty orders; they were given pointless and boring tasks. The prisoners soon adopted prisoner like behaviour too. They talked about prison issues a great deal of the time.
-One prisoner had to be released after 36 hours because of uncontrollable bursts of screaming, crying and anger.
-Zimbardo (1973) had intended that the experiment should run for a fortnight, but on the sixth day he closed it down.
People will readily adapt to the social roles they are expected to play, especially if the roles are as strongly stereotypes as those of the prison guards. The “prison” environment was an important factor in creating the guards brutal behaviour (none of the participants who acted as guards showed sadistic tendencies before the study) therefore the roles that play people can shape their behaviour and attitudes.
Strengths and weaknesses
A main strength of the study was the way it managed to maintain some degree of control and some ecological validity. The situation was very tightly controlled like the guards and prisoners were randomly allocated and were selected randomly to. The study still has ecological