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Research the Stanford Prison Experiment.  

Write a 4–5-page overview to include the following:

Provide a brief review of the study.

What was the purpose of the study (exploratory, descriptive, explanatory, evaluative, or a combination)? Justify your reasoning.

List four ethical principles and standards.

Explain how they have or have not been complied with.

Evaluate the validity and reliability of this experiment. Explain your answer.

Analyze whether the results can be generalized to another situation or population. Justify your reasoning.


Research the Stanford Prison Experiment

Question 1

Stanford prison experiment presents a study of the psychological effects of changing into prisoners or correctional officers. The analysis was conducted by Professor Philip Zimbardo at the Stanford University back in August 1971 using 24 university students who posed as prisoners while some acted as a correctional officer. The U.S Office of marine research sponsored this experiment, and it was of great significance in both the U.S Navy and Marine Corps (Lesko, 2009). The sole aim of the research was to investigate the causes of conflict and misunderstanding between the correctional officers who are the military and the prisoners. This experimented can be said to study the psychology of the detainees and what they feel and go through psychologically while in prison. Most of the participants of the research adapted to their duties and functions much more than the professor expected. Some of the guards enforced strict orders while subjecting some prisoners to psychobiological torture which is the real case in most prisons worldwide. Most of the prisoners accepted to have gone or received psychological abuse from the guards and some of them were punished for trying to be against what the guards were doing. The experiment never came to a conclusion as two of its participant quitted after only six days since there were objections of Christina Maslach (Lesko, 2009). At the end of the test, the professor was able to conclude that situation, rather than individual personalities of prisoners and correctional officers, caused the participants behavior.

Question 2

The purpose of the study was explanatory. Both the U.S Navy and the Marine Corps were seeking an explanation why there is a constant revolt or a misunderstanding between the military correctional officer and the prisoners in most cases. By subjecting the participants to torture or rather the real situation in most prisons, they would portray the same behaviors as those represented by real prisoners in all prisons, and this would explain the reason behind many revolts in prisons. All explanatory experiments require the participants to investigate an idea, evaluate evidence, describe the approach and set forth a thesis concerning the idea. In our case, Professor Philip was tasked with the responsibility of investigating the concept of conflicts in prisons, evaluated cases of torture and psychological abuse, expressed on the idea of conflicts in prisons and finally made his conclusions as to why there are constant battles in most correction institutions (Bartels, 2015). The experiment tried to explain that since the prisoners, and the guards were playing a role their behavior may not be affected by the same factors which influence actions in real life. The findings of the research cannot be used in real life although some of the participants reacted to the situation as though it was real.

Related: Crime Prevention through Environmental Design

Question 3

Unethical behavior is that action or activities of individuals that fall far much beyond what is considered morally correct or right for people, profession or industries. For business or a person to produce valid and credible results he has to behave or act within the ethics that are set forth to be followed by each and every person (Henn, 2009).  The study or rather an experiment presented some ethical issues, and this did not go down well with the participants of the research. Some of the ethical problems in the test include:

  • The participants were forced to continue with the experiment against their will.
  • Lack of fully informed consent by participants
  • Lack of protection from psychological harm
  • Breach of contract

Question 4

Most of the participants were forced to continue participating in the study against their will.  At the start of the experiment, the participants were told that they had the right to leave any time they wished. However, the professor did not allow them to leave. He thought by continuing with the experiment he would produce outstanding results but sincerely talking this was hurting the participants (McCormick, 2000). The professor was faced with an ethical dilemma that the study could return exciting and useful results but on the other hand, it could have permanent effects on the lives of most participants. This Stanford experiment led to the implementation of rules and regulation to protect any harmful treatment of participants.

Lack of fully informed consent was another ethical issue in the experiment as the professor himself was not aware of the results of the experiment. To their major surprise, the participants were arrested at their homes, something they did not consent at the start of the experiment. However, the professor and his team explained that they wanted the arrest to come as a surprise to the participants, and that is the main reason they did not inform them earlier of the home arrests.

Moreover, the participants especially those playing as the prisoners were not protected from psychological harm that could result from the mental abuse they were subjected to while acting. Most of the “prisoners” experienced situations and instances of humiliation and distress in the name of acting (McCormick, 2000). For example, there was one participant who was released only after 36 hours of the play due to uncontrollable crying, screaming, and anger. This shows that the participants were not enjoying the study at all but rather they were going through hell.

The main ethical issue in this experiment was the breach of contract between the professor and the participants especially the prisoners. Most of the things that went on during the investigation were unexpected and thus, several changes on how to make the study to work were done. This shows that there was a deviation from the original contract between the participants and Philip. To the surprise of many, the participants were not consulted when the changes were being implemented.

Question 5

The results of the study can be generalized to another situation. The experiment was supposed to run for a fortnight, but this had to be changed due to unforeseen developments in the study. Most of the participants felt involved and committed to an extent that they thought this was a real life situation. However, this being just an experiment the participants might have stepped beyond their boundaries especially the guards who had started to enjoy their roles of being in control (Dunn, 2016). In one instance, the professor admits having been surprised at his character for behaving like a prison superintendent rather than a research psychologist. This was contrary to what the “prisoners” felt. Some of them were experiencing dangerous and psychologically damaging situations in the process. This shows that the experiment may have gone too far than expected and rather that producing reliable and valid results, it produced vague results. There is a significant difference between a real life situation and just acting. In real life, prisoners are subjected to torture and psychological abuse without protection but in our case, prisoners are protected to some extent. Thus, the results of this experiment can only be generalized into another situation.


Bartels, J. (2015). The Stanford prison experiment in introductory psychology textbooks: A          content analysis. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 14(1), 36-50.

Dunn, D. (2016). “It’s still a prison to me”: A new dramatic film portrayal of the Stanford Prison             Experiment. Psyccritiques, 61(3).

Henn, S. (2009). Business ethics. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.

Lesko, W. (2009). Readings in social psychology. Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

McCormick, P. (2000). Just Punishment and America’s Prison Experiment. Theological Studies, 61(3), 508-532.


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