Ethics and Stanford Prison Experiment Essay

2160 Words Feb 20th, 2012 9 Pages
Ethics and the Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971 Philipp Zimbardo carried out one of the most ethically controversial psychological experiment the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’. Originally he aimed to study how much our behavior is structured by the social role we occupy. Describing the study briefly 24 undergraduates with no criminal and psychological record were chosen for the research to play the roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison situated in the basement of Stanford University Psychology Building, equipped by hidden cameras and microphones. As the lead researcher, Zimbardo was observing the events from a different room, giving instructions to the guards. The research was supposed to last about two weeks. However
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Not only the prisoners but the guards as well lost their sense of identity. Later Zimbardo in his writing ‘Pathology of Imprisonment’ mentions that the experiment ‘was no longer apparent to most of the subject where reality ended and their role began’. The majority of the subjects became prisoners and guards and was no longer being able to differentiate between their roles and their personality. (Zimbardo.p. 249)
All together psychologically the following were observed: the loss of personal identity on both sides; and the arbitrary control exerted by the guards made the prisoner's lives increasingly unpredictable, causing depression and anxiety. The guards also developed a dependency on prisoners and were emasculated them to the extent that when the prisoners were debriefed they suggested that they had been assigned to be prisoners because they were smaller than the guards. In fact, there was no difference in average height between the prisoners and the guards, and the perceived difference was a response to the prisoners' perceptions of themselves and their power (Haney et al. p 14).
The physical harm was never proven on record however many critics do predict that mental effects of the experience should have generated automatic physical reactions. As an example that supports this idea happened on the fourth day when one guard detained prisoner…