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Evaluation of the Stanford Prison Experiment’ Role

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a study that was conducted on August 20, 1971 by a group of researchers headed by the psychology professor Philip Zimbardo to find out the psychological outcomes of becoming a prison guard or prisoner. The study was carried out in the basement of Jordan Hall. Twelve participants took up the role of prisoners while a similar number had the role of guards. Zimbardo devised the experiment to provoke bewilderment, deindividualization, and depersonalization, as the guards were armed with wooden batons, wearing the clothing similar to that of prison guards and mirrored glasses to intimate the prisoners and establish a status of utmost authority. While the experiment was initially slated to last 14 days, it had to be ended after six days because the guards became increasingly abusive and prisoners showed the signs of acute stress and disquiet (Cherry, 2012).

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If I were a guard taking part in the Stanford Prison Research, I would have become a professional guard, not a tyrannical one. I would not use cruelty and oppression on humans to achieve scientific results since it is offensive. Furthermore, using such means does not conform to the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics that requires researchers to maintain objectivity and integrity in research and respect their subjects’ rights to privacy and dignity. The guards did not comply with the regulation. They heavily chained the prisoners’ ankles, which does not only fail to comply with the code, but is also a rare act in prisons. In addition, the researchers created a non-liberal prison by requiring male prisoners to put on dresses. Besides, they searched and stripped the prisoners naked (Langwith, 2008). The researchers, therefore, violated human rights, which if taking part in the experiment as a guard, I would not have done.

On the other hand, if I were participating as a prisoner, I would have managed the situation differently. Foremost, the participants were volunteers, and therefore it would be incorrect to demand for personal rights after voluntarily accepting to take part in the research and be paid. They were paid $15 per day – approximately equivalent to $85 in 2013 (Cherry, 2012). I would ensure that I play my role, rather than internalizing the prison life. Though, maintaining a positive attitude for many days may be challenging; as seen in the case of the prisoners, it is possible to keep on for 14 days if one understands the role of the experiment. I would develop a positive behavior since a negative one would be detrimental to my well-being. As a result of my ability to manage stress, I would effectively play the role of a guard or prisoner, despite moral concerns regarding the experiment.

The objective of the experiment, to determine the impact of authority and fear on human behavior, was proper. However, the approach of conducting the research was improper and unethical. Being expected to behave exactly as a prisoner because of monetary reward is unethical (Zimbardo, 2007). Apart from being stripped naked and requirements to wear dresses, the prisoners were deloused with a spray to advocate that they had germs and fleas. The actions promoted the decision of two participants to pull out at the onset of the study. Many of those who remained became psychologically unhealthy. Due to the negative impact on health, it is notable that the research was unethical. Further research is, therefore, necessary to develop advanced modes of undertaking inquiries.


Cherry, K. (2012). The Stanford Prison Experiment – Overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Psychology – Complete guide to psychology for students, educators & enthusiasts. Web.

Langwith, J. (2008). Human rights. Detroit, Mich.: Greenhaven Press.

Zimbardo, P. G. (2007). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York,NY: Random House.

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