Stanford prison experiment

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The Stanford prison experiment was a scientific experiment done at Stanford University in 1971. The experiment was done in the field of psychology. It tried to re-create the conditions at a prison. Philip Zimbardo was the psychologist who led the experiment. Twenty-four undergraduate students were selected to play the role of either prisoner or prison guard. The role was assigned at random. The students adapted to the roles beyond what Zimbardo had imagined. After some time, the guards used authoritarian measures.

The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself. Five of the prisoners were upset enough by the process to quit the experiment early. The experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days, out of fifteen planned. The experimental process and the results remain controversial. The entire experiment was filmed. Parts of the footage were soon made publicly available as a film. Over 30 years later, Zimbardo found new interest in the experiment when the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal occurred.

Psychological themes[change | change source]

The experiment also had certain problems:

  • Prisoners were anonymous; they were referred to by a number
  • Rules were very important; they were also an important means to guide behaviour
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • Peer pressure

Movies about the events[change | change source]

There has been a lot of interest for the events in the media. At least the following movies were made:

  • A German movie (Das Experiment/The Experiment), of 2001; based on a book by Mario Giordano
  • A US movie of 2010 (also called The Experiment)