Research Ethics Stanford Prison Experiment Summary

The Stanford Jail Experiment (SPE) was performed in 1971 at Stanford University in the basement of the psychology structure. Philip Zimbardo as lead scientist headed the research study group to study the effect of situational variables on human behaviour. Zimbardo and his team advertised for volunteers to a social experiment offering $15 in payment each day. Wishing to analyze the "dark side" of human nature, candidates were needed to have no rap sheet, no mental problems and no major medical conditions.

Each of the 70 applicants were emotionally tested and the 24 most "regular" were chosen to take part in the SPE.

The 24 chosen individuals were then divided into two groups randomly, with one half being prisoners and the other half being guards. The guards were taken to the mock jail prior to the detainees got here to help in the lasts of the jail's building and construction and to assist pick their military style uniforms, this was to offer the guards a sense of ownership over the prison environment.

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Alternatively the detainees were surprised with genuine cops and genuine processing before being put behind bars into the prison. Regardless of it being a synthetically produced environment the guards and detainees quickly changed their behaviour in action to the situational variables of the experiment. Detainees were dehumanized and their individuality stripped away, while the guards became increasingly more sadistic and degrading towards the detainees. After the guards squashed an early attempted rebellion by the detainees, one detainee was released for acting irrationally to a point that appeared pathological.

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After this a few of the prisoners became super-conformist, following rules to the letter. While other prisoners began to act insane in an effort to passively escape like the first launched detainee. The guards fell into three categories with some acting sadistically and degrading towards the detainees, others going totally by the book and some guards acting kindly and doing small favours for the detainees. None of guards ever stepped in or questioned the actions of other guards however no matter what sort of guard they were.

The experiment was terminated early after just six days when an outsider, a recent PhD graduate came in from the outside and saw how out of control the experiment had become. Ethical issues that arose during the SPE were the harm done to the participants. Guards were allowed to inflict real pain and humiliation on the prisoners over an extended period of time. The experiment was allowed to continue for longer than it should have because the participants and observers fell too deeply into their roles. There was also little or no regard for the participants’ confidentiality during the SPE.


Updated: Dec 12, 2023
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Research Ethics Stanford Prison Experiment Summary. (2016, Dec 20). Retrieved from

Research Ethics Stanford Prison Experiment Summary essay
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