In 1973, Philip K. Zimbardo, a psychology professor at Stanford University began researching how prisoners and guards internalize submissive and authoritarian roles. He placed an ad in the newspaper seeking male college students needed for a study of prison life. The experiment would last for only two weeks and they would get paid $15 per day. The ad attracted seventy-five responses, but only twenty-one were selected. The men were divided into two groups: Prisoners and Guards. They were warned that as prisoners of this experiment their privacy and other rights would be violated, as well as being harassed.
Zimbardo’s goal for this experiment was to find out the period in which the prisoners and guards become controlling and passive. In order to do this he had to set up a mock prison. The prisoners were given the same smocks to wear, lived in cells, and were given ID numbers. The guards were assigned identical uniforms, and were given billy clubs, whistles, handcuffs, and keys to all the cells and the main gate to show a sign of power they had over the prisoners. The guards had no training in how to handle their jobs, but caught on.
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In a real prison, guards don’t go through any training on how to treat the prisoners; they go by instinct. The prisoner’s quarters were small, and windowless; they never knew if it was day or night outside. At 10 P.M. it was time to lockup, and all privileges were denied. The mock prison was designed in order to bring out the psychological aspects of imprisonment. The prisoners were given sixteen basic rules to follow that would be followed. There were hidden video cameras and microphones that recorded the prisoners and guards conversations.
The first day of the experiment went by very smoothly. On the morning of the second day a riot broke loose; the prisoners barricaded themselves in their cells by putting their beds against the doors, and began to curse at the guards. The guards decided to take action and got a “fire extinguisher that shot skin-chilling carbon dioxide” and threatened the prisoners, forcing them to move away from the doors. The guards stripped the prisoners, took their beds, and harassed them. They knew if they wanted to take over the prison again, they had to put their foot down. From that moment on the prisoners were controlled by the guards.
The psychological impact of the experiment on the subjects became obvious immediately. The experiment turned into a complicated game to the young men and they started to lose sight of reality. The prisoners started seeing themselves as actual prisoners and thought only of escape. They fell into a depression and some prisoners actually cried. Some even stopped yelling back at the guards and began to obey them. The guards, also, fell quickly into their roles of power. The guards actually began to harass the prisoners and yelled at them. At one point a prisoner would not eat and the guard began shoving food into the prisoner’s face. The subjects became the roles they where given.
The two-week experiment was cut short to six days because the men got so engrossed in their characters. The experiment ended up not only proving that humans are quick to behave and act how they are told they should behave and act but also the aggressive nature dormant in most people. Dr. Zimbardo realized the significance of the experiment. He pointed out that if these men who where supposed to be the cream of the crop would so quickly fall into the parts they where given, then actual prisoners and guards under actual circumstances would undergo much worse. The experiment was cut to an end as well as the research of Phillip K. Zimbardo.
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