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Stanford Prison Experiment Research Paper



The unsettling aspect of the experiment was that it seemed to prove the pervasive behaviour of the prison guards and prisoners was due to an aspect of human psychology, deeply embedded in the human nature, rather than an acquired ill reasoning. However, there are arguments as to whether the experiment used the right procedure and parameters to obtain objective results.

The guidelines violated

The study violated the ethical guidelines of any experiment involving human beings since it did not have any ethical acceptability. The set APA standards require that any experiment, including those investigating psychological issues, be free of any kind of torture. If the guards had stuck to the recommended course of action when handling the prisoners, the experiment could have resulted in outcomes that were more objective.

The researchers disregarded the subjects’ welfare, which is against the APA guideline requirements. Moreover, the experiment planners failed to consider the gravity of the events if the anticipated risks turned into a reality. The APA guidelines require the experimenter to structure the experiment in such a way that the risk is not too detrimental to the physical and emotional wellbeing.

The leader of the team, doctor Zimbardo, was also the person who conducted the analysis of the course and the results of the experiment. According to the accepted standards in modern research, the leader of the team flawed the experiment by acting as an observer while disturbing the process. This violated another guideline, which advocates for minimum disturbance. Zimbardo’s personal opinion and feelings exposed the experiment to distortion.

The experiment’s validity was questionable since before the commencement of the process all actions in the prison were anticipated. The guards had premeditated inflicting torture and curtailing the subjects’ freedom contrary to the APA guidelines on experimentation (Blass 235).

There were no admissible criteria of equating the experimental prison’s conditions to those of a real prison. The experimental conditions could have been far much worse than the real conditions of an average prison. Furthermore, some conditions in real prison are necessary while experimental conditions were deliberate efforts to inflict mental stress.

The researchers altering the Study

Although there was no way to modify the experiment to reflect a real prison in totality, the team could have adopted measures that ensured the experiment stayed within the admissible criteria of practical experimentation.

The experiment would have obtained better results if the prisoners and the guards were subjected to the procedure without being guided on how to react to various situations. The decision to instil mental strain on the prisoners distorted the experiment. On the contrary, gradual, automatic, and natural mental strain on the guards and the prisoners was a more appropriate approach.

Another measure that could have been useful to the experiment was the random selection of the prisoners with the freedom to request release. In a real prison, the prison community is composed of individuals with random backgrounds. In this essence, the experimental team should have been composed of a random collection of individuals picked in a non-discriminatory way.

An independent observer would have been useful in ensuring that the participants in the experiment did not have any interest in the experiment’s outcome. This would facilitate the most accurate natural response of the experiment’s subjects to the conditions in their undisturbed environment.

Furthermore, the participants in such an experiment must have only limited information regarding the issue in question. This ensures that the subjects are not subconsciously aware of the aim of the experiment while deciding on each of their moves (Huggins et al 263).

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon where individual are attracted to do things that require more effort or responsibility rather than take on the easier options. This trend is evident in the Stanford experiment among the prisoners and the gaurds. The guards strive to ensure that the prisoners suffered for no particular reason.

Moreover, the prisoners had no cause to rebel if the guards maintained a professional stance in the experiment. However, the guards opted to oppress the prisoners and later deal with the ensuing crisis. This evidence of cognitive dissonance in the prison community seems to confirm in a limited manner, the existence of a substantial negative psychological part in the comprehensive human nature (Festinger 32).

The prisoners had clear characteristics of cognitive dissonance. They chose to flout the prison’s regulations and then later endure the repercussions although there were no clear benefits of their actions. In addition, the prisoners chose a more difficult relationship with the prison authorities with the intention of creating a conflict. These actions implied that the trait is a natural tendency of the human being to choose to confront the more challenging situations rather than the easier procedures (Cooper 42).


The study produced substantial evidence to prove the existence of cognitive dissonance in human beings. Although the experiment’s procedure breached major guidelines on experimentation, the results contain details that objectively point to the natural tendency of the human beings to take on more challenging options.

Works Cited

Blass, Thomas. Obedience to authority current perspectives on the Milgram paradigm. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000. Print.

Cooper, Joel. Cognitive dissonance: fifty years of a classic theory. Los Angeles [u.a.: SAGE Publ., 2007. Print.

Festinger, Leon. A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 19621957. Print.

Huggins, Martha Knisely, Mika Fatouros, and Philip G. Zimbardo. Violence workers: police torturers and murderers reconstruct Brazilian atrocities. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Print.

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"Stanford Prison Experiment." IvyPanda, 17 Nov. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/stanford-prison-experiment-2/.

1. IvyPanda. "Stanford Prison Experiment." November 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/stanford-prison-experiment-2/.


IvyPanda. "Stanford Prison Experiment." November 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/stanford-prison-experiment-2/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Stanford Prison Experiment." November 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/stanford-prison-experiment-2/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Stanford Prison Experiment'. 17 November.

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