A Study of Prisoners and Guards in a Simulated Prison Essay

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A Study of Prisoners and Guards in a Simulated Prison


This study was funded by the US Navy, as it and the US Marine Corps were interested in finding out the causes of conflict between guards and prisoners in the naval prisons. Attempts to explain the violent and brutal conditions often found in prisons had previously used dispositional attribution. That is, that the state of the prison is due to the nature of the prison guards and the prisoners.

For example, it had been argued that prison guards bring to their jobs a particular ‘guard mentality’ and are therefore attracted to the job as they are already sadistic and insensitive people. Whereas prisoners are individuals who have
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Either prisoner or guard. The dependent variable is the resulting behaviour.

The study can also be described as a simulation as it was attempting to create a prison like environment.

Data collected were combinations of both quantitative and qualitative data. The main data though was qualitative and was obtained using video, audiotape and direct observation.

The participants were respondents to a newspaper advertisement, which asked for male volunteers to participate in a psychological study of ‘prison life’ in return for payment of $15 per day.

The 75 respondents completed a questionnaire about their family background, physical and mental health, prior experiences and attitudinal tendencies with respect to psychopathology and any involvement in crime.

Based on the results of the tests 24 men were selected. These 24 were judged to be the most physically and mentally stable, most mature, and least involved in antisocial behaviours. The participants were described as “normal, healthy male college students who were predominantly middle class and white.” The 24 participants did not know each other prior to the study.

A simulated prison was built in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford University. The simulated prison comprised of:

* Three small
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