There's A Huge Problem With One Of The Most Famous (And Frightening) Experiments Of All Time

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James Felton 14 Jun 2018, 17:37

If you've studied any psychology whatsoever, you'll have heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Along with Milgram, it's one of the most famous psychology experiments in history. It formed the basis of a lot of what psychologists thought about power, control, and conformity.

Now, however, a new expose based on recordings from the experiment has revealed huge problems with Philip Zimbardo's research, including revelations that participants were "acting".

Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment has been the inspiration for fiction for years, due to the extraordinary events that took place as the experiment became "out of control".

The experiment, for those who don't know it, took 24 volunteers and placed them in a mock prison in the basement of the psychology department at Stanford University. 

The participants, who had been psychologically evaluated to eliminate candidates with psychological problems or a history of violence or drug abuse, were then assigned to be either guards or prisoners.

The prisoners were treated like prisoners, stripped of their possessions by the guards, were referred to only by their prisoner number, and kept in cells for much of the day. Guards, according to the published study at the time, were told to do whatever they deemed necessary to maintain law and order within the "prison". 

Over the course of the experiment, both groups appeared to begin to conform to their new roles a little too well. Guards began to harass and mistreat prisoners, Prisoners began to act "crazy" (in the words of Zimbardo), and the experiment was ultimately aborted just six days into the planned two-week run time due to safety concerns.

The problem is, according to the new expose backed up by audio recordings, a lot of it was done at the explicit or implied request of the experimenters, and some of it was just plain acting.

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