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Stanford Prison Experiment Of Philip Zimbardo

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The aim of the Stanford Prison Experiment was to investigate the psychological effects of male college students in a simulated prison life, with random allocations to roles such as prisoners or guards and to find out whether the reported brutal behaviour of the guards in America was affected by the prison environment or their sadistic personalities. Zimbardo wanted to show the effects on a human’s behaviour when their life was completely controlled and individuality was taken away from them.

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Zimbardo began the preparation for the experiment by transforming the basement of the Stanford University psychology building into a prison, with barred doors, bare walls and small cells. His experiment was conducted with 24 healthy, male college students. These were selected from the 75 students who had volunteered to participate in the psychological study, however many of these applicants were eliminated due to psychological problems, medical disabilities or a history of crime or drug abuse. The selected participants had given Zimbardo the consent for random role allocations, for either a prisoner or a guard, and were paid $15 a day. The experiment was kept as realistic as possible and this was achieved by following the procedures of every other criminal arrestment. They were taken from their homes, to the police station, and were photographed, fingerprinted, stripped naked and had their possessions taken away from them.

Within a couple of days, the guards and the prisoners had already been adopting and settling in their roles. The innocent prisoners were being treated like every other criminal; they were dehumanized. Many of them were harassed by guards, given confronting orders and were not referred to as their name, but as an ID number. The guards became more aggressive towards the prisoners, by giving them disturbing orders and punishments, and the prisoners became more obedient and dependable on the guards. As a result of the poor treatments, although the participants did give consent, many of them suffered from emotional disturbances, rage or irrational thinking. It wasn’t until six days later, when Zimbardo finally realized “how far into his prison role he was at that point as he had been thinking like a prison superintendent rather than a research psychologist” – he quotes in 2008. The experiment was originally planned for a fortnight, however was terminated by day six due to the mental abuse of the prisoners.

From this experiment, he has concluded that people will adapt to their given roles and perform the stereotypical behaviour of that role. The characteristics developed throughout their time in the prison had been so realistic, that it affected the other roles.

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