This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film The Stanford Prison Experiment at the APA (American Psychological Association) conference. The screening of the film was followed by a Q&A session with the led researcher and distinguished psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo. The film was adapted from Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. I first learned about the Stanford prison experiment during my undergraduate studies in psychology. The ethical implications of this landmark study are still discussed in undergraduate and graduate psychology classes. It was interesting to now revisit the study as a researcher who has designed and carried out various research studies.
The Stanford prison experiment, a study conducted in 1971, examined the psychological effects of prison life. The male college students who volunteered to be part of the study were randomly assigned to be either prison guards or prisoners. The study was originally planned to run for a two-week period, but it was ended after six days because of what the situation was doing to the participants. Within the first couple of days the guards exhibited sadistic tendencies and the prisons showed signs of extreme stress. Watching the film was distressing (as it should be), as the study itself was controversial and the results quite shocking. It was interesting however, to hear Dr. Zimbardo discuss how the Stanford prison study inspired his notable research on shyness and his recent work the Heroic Imagination Project.
The official Stanford Prison Experiment website: http://www.prisonexp.org/