Last Updated 28 Jan 2021

Summary of the Stanford Prison Experiment

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Summary of the Stanford Prison Experiment Nicole Bennett University of Winnipeg The Stanford Prison Experiment involved 24 male college students from North America who volunteered locally through advertisements in newspapers. The volunteers had to be living or staying in the Stanford area, totally healthy – psychologically, mentally, emotionally and physically – as well as willing to participate in the study for around 1-2 weeks. For their participation, volunteers would receive a $15 per day compensation.

The Stanford Prison research team relied on outside consultants to help them construct a believable prison in the basement of Stanford's Psychology Department. Their prison contained prison cells, a bathroom, an eating and exercise yard, a solitary confinement room and an intercom system to make announcements to the prisoners. Researchers could observe the guards and also the prisoners using a secretly placed system of video cameras and microphones.

Researchers divided the 24 volunteers into two random groups. One group was assigned to be the prison guards while the other group became the prisoners. The volunteers assigned as prisoners learned of their involvement and role through being arrested by real police officers in their homes on campus. What followed was an investigation into human nature. Prisoners experienced extreme degradation, punishment, despair, oppression and depression as they began to wholly believe they were prisoners.

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The guards took their role quite seriously as they strictly enforced the law and asserted their given power and authority. The Stanford Prison Experiment, which was supposed to last for two weeks, ended after six days when researchers realized that guards were becoming incredibly abusive and that the prisoners were beginning to forget that they were not actual prisoners. What this experiment shows is that we adapt and conform to social roles more easily than thought.

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