An Inside Look of the Psychological Experiment of Stanford Prison


The Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted in 1971 by Philip Zimbardo. It was a psychological study of the behavioral response to real prison life and it revealed how strict social rules can influence one’s behavior (Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment). Research participants were “prisoners” and “guards” in a mock prison. Zimbardo created this experiment because he wanted to know if the reported brutality from guards was from inhuman personalities or from the prison environment (McLeod 2018). For example, some prisoners have a hard time respecting law enforcement while some guards are aggressive so there is no way to avoid conflict.

Or, due to the power structure in the prison, prisoners and guards act up. Zimbardo predicted that the situation in the prison is what causes people to act out of line rather than the personalities (McLeod 2018). This study was supposed to last two weeks but after just six days it came to an end (Hopper 2018).

The guards were acting abusive towards the prisoners and forced them to engage in degrading behaviors.

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Signs of depression were already seen in the prisoners and some had experienced nervous breakdowns. On the 5th day of this experiment, Zimbardo’s girlfriend, who is a psychologist, was shocked by what she witnessed. Another lady told him how awful what he’s doing is (Hopper 2018). Realizing the emotional and mental danger of this experiment, he decided to end the study. The Procedure Zimbardo converted a basement at Stanford University into a mock prison. All 75 applicants to do this experiment were interviewed to eliminate candidates with any mental issues, disabilities, or any drug abuse (McLeod 2018).

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24 of the most mentally and physically stable men were chosen and were paid $15 per day of the experiment (McLeod 2018). The participants were randomly chosen to either play the role of guard or prisoner in a prison-related environment. The prisoners were arrested at their homes with no warning and taken to the police station where they were fingerprinted, photographed, and booked (McLeod 2018).

The prisoners were then blindfolded and transferred to the mock prison and that’s when everything began. Intake Arriving to the mock prison, the prisoners were treated like any other criminal; stripped naked, given prison clothes, their personal things were taken from them, and received an ID number (McLeod 2018). They were only known for their number for a way to keep the prisoners anonymous. They were all chained from one ankle and every guard had to wear special sunglasses to avoid any eye contact with the prisoners (McLeod 2018). The guards worked about eight-hour shifts and were to do whatever was necessary to maintain law and order. Zimbardo did not permit any physical violence. Findings McLeod (2018) stated that in just hours into the experiment, some of the guards began harassing the prisoners. The prisoners played into their role quickly as well. Some would tell on the other or side with the guards if they did not follow the rules (McLeod 2018). The prisoners were treated awful by the guards. They were taunted by insults and forced to do pointless orders. They had physical punishments, push-ups being a common one.

The guards would step on their back or making other prisoners sit on their back while doing the push-ups (McLeod 2018). Rebellion On day 2, the guards were surprised that the prisoners rebelled. The prisoners ripped off their numbers and put their beds against the door so the guards could not mess with them (McLeod 2018). The guards used a fire extinguisher to break into the cells and stripped all the prisoners naked and took their beds out. The leaders of the act were sent to solidary confinement and the guards got worse with the harassment (McLeod 2018). The guards now had very firm control of the prisoners. Reactions from the prisoners McLeod (2018) stated that in less than 36 hours into the experiment, one of the prisoners started to suffer from rage, uncontrollable crying, and disorganized thinking. After a little while of time, the prisoner began to go crazy screaming and lost all control; this is what made the psychologist realize they must let him out (McLeod 2018).

A few more prisoners were talking to a priest and broke down crying uncontrollably. Due to all the breakdowns and the emotions from the prisoners, this is when they stopped the experiment. The end of the experiment. Overall, Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment revealed how people who are prisoners will conform to social roles they are expected to play (McLeod 2018). The prison environment definitely took part in causing the guards to act cruel towards the prisoners but none of the guards showed sadistic personalities before the experiment. Because of that, the findings support the situational explanation of behavior (McLeod 2018). I don’t think any of the applicants expected to struggle that much coming into this study. I hope it was eye opening for people who didn’t know what real world prisoners go through every day. I know it’s a lot more violent and brutal in real life prison and the participants in this study went crazy in just a few days. They didn’t even make it to a week. It’s very important to raise awareness for the brutality in prisons and the help some prisoners need.

I can only imagine how many mentally unstable people there are or emotionally broken people there are that are being harassed in there every day. Prisoners do not deserve an easy time in prison because they are criminals but no one should be harassed to the point where they lose control and go crazy or become depressed. No one really talks about what happens behind “closed doors” and it’s very important to get the word out to people so we can change it. Zimbardo’s friends were absolutely shocked by what they saw just from the mock prison. If people are treated like this in prison, it’s not going to do anything good for them and they will continue to be criminals on the streets. It also causes more mental illness which is the last thing America needs.


McLeod, Saul. (2018) The Stanford Prison Experiment. Retrieved from

Hopper, Elizabeth. (2018) Biography from Philip Zimbardo. Retrieved from

Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Retrieved from

Updated: May 21, 2021
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An Inside Look of the Psychological Experiment of Stanford Prison. (2020, Sep 05). Retrieved from

An Inside Look of the Psychological Experiment of Stanford Prison essay
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