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The Stanford Prison Experiment


Social influence can be demonstrated n various ways including compliance, obedience, conformity, and group think. Social situations possess the power to change people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. The Stanford prison experiment is an example of how outside social situations influence changes in thought and behavior among humans.

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Definition of Terms


Obedience refers to the act of yielding to instructions given by a superior or an authority figure related to a specific request or command. For example, students obey their teachers’ instructions to complete their homework on time or to form teams for school projects. Obedience can be based on either respect or fear.


Compliance refers to the act of behaving in a certain manner so as to avoid punishment or enjoy certain rewards. It involves agreeing to certain terms or conditions due to the influence of an internal or external social force. For example, a child might stop playing video games at the command of a parent so as to avoid the repercussions of disobeying such as being grounded.


Conformity refers to the act of behaving in a definite way or embracing a certain pattern of thinking due to influence from external sources such as family or peers. A common example is young people’s propensity to behave like their peers in order to gain acceptance. Many young people are influenced by their peers into believing that women are the weaker sex, so they objectify them and treat them with disdain. Conforming to the new belief, a young man changes his behavior to match that of his peers.

Group Think

Group think refers to the practice of relinquishing personal creativity and judgment in favor of the prevalent approach embraced by a group. It undermines the significance of individuality and rationality. An example of group think is the approach taken by individuals working on a project. They embrace similar outlooks to enhance harmony and sacrifice the incorporation of creativity in their decision-making or problem-solving process.

Compliance Techniques and Their Ethical Implications

Common compliance techniques used include the foot-in-the-door technique, the door-in-the-face technique, and the low-ball technique (Hewstone, 2016). I think that the use of compliance techniques is unethical if they are used to benefit one party only. Everyone should be allowed to make decisions that align with their values ad that serve their purposes. Many people comply because of the fear of punishment or retribution.

In organizations, compliance is viewed from an ethical perspective because it benefits both the organization and the employees. It is achieved through the implementation of ethical standards, rules, and regulations to govern employee conduct (Hewstone, 2016). Compliance techniques work due to the influence of principles that include consistency, reciprocity, and commitment (Hewstone, 2016). I believe that it is unethical to use these principles to manipulate people into behaving in certain ways.

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The Stanford Prison Experiment

The experiment is an example of the social construction of compliance. It was unethical to conduct the study because the participants were not informed of the possibility of abuse. The consent form did not include the possible occurrence of brutality and violence. The prisoners signed consent forms, which stated that they would not undergo any physical harm (Adams, & Balfour, 2015). Zimbardo did not explain to the volunteers the possible dangers that they would encounter during the experiment.

However, as the experiment progressed, the guards began to physically abuse the prisoners against their consent (Zimbardo, 2017). The researcher lied to the prisoners and manipulated them by providing consent forms that did not describe the experiment fully. Zimbardo hired untrained guards who were so consumed by their power that they violated the rights of the prisoners (Adams, & Balfour, 2015). In addition, he did not put measures in place to protect the volunteers form physical and psychological abuse.

The enforcement of authoritarian measures by the guards was unethical because it subjected the volunteers to torture, which was not included in their consent forms (Adams, & Balfour, 2015). It was also unethical because the leader of the experiment was compromised and failed to stop the experiment after incidences of abuse were reported. The experiment continued even against the wishes of the participants who had been nformed that they could abdicate the experiment at any time.

It was wrong to subject the participants to physical and psychological torture for the sake of the knowledge gained by the research. The fact that the experiment continued against the wishes of the participants makes it unethical. Zimbardo manipulated the volunteers into participating in the study by excluding key information from the consent forms. His study had severe ethical implications because volunteers were abused and tortured against their will. The experiment affected their physical and mental-wellbeing.


Social pressures can influence people into changing their beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. Conformity, obedience, compliance, and group think are examples of how social situations influence human behavior. The Stanford prison experiment is an example of how social forces change people’s behaviors and the ethical implications of such transformations. It shows how compliance develops from social influence.


Adams, G., & Balfour, D. (2015). Unmaking administrative evil. New York, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Hewstone, M. (2016). An introduction to social psychology. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

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Zimbardo, P. G. (2017). The story: An overview of the experiment. Web.

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