The Stanford Prison Experiment was a 1971 experiment conducted by Phillip Zimbardo at Stanford University that simulated a prison environment and divided students into guards and prisoners in order to study the psychological impacts of power and control. The Stanford Prison Experiment was set to run for two weeks, but according to Zimbardo, was stopped after six days because “the guards became so brutal.”
The study began replicating real prison conditions for prisoners by arresting them and stripping them naked, cleaning their bodies in case they had lice, and forcing them into a prison outfit with a chain around their ankle. They were each assigned a number, and were to be referred to by that number only. This was all an attempt to dehumanize them.
Guards were giving no guard training, but instead left to govern on their own. They made up rules, but slowly over the week, the rules began to deteriorate. Guards would try harder and harder to assert their dominance over the prisoners, and the encounters got not only physical, but also psychological.
The environment no longer felt like an experiment. Even the psychologists in charge had succumbed to their roles as prison directors, and the prisoners were not free to leave, despite the fact that they had the right to go whenever they wanted. Parents of prisoners sent lawyers, who treated the situation as real, despite knowing it was an experiment.
The experiment had gone too far – video footage of nighttime encounters when head researchers were no longer around showed the truly abusive techniques of the guards.
The video on the experiment is available for purchase here.
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