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Stanford Prison Experiment Definition Essay

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Updated: Dec 25th, 2021


The Stanford Prison Experiment serves as an example of how social power of groups works. Especially, this study undertaking, revealed how study participants (mock prisoners) adhered to the rules of the authority figures when they well knew that, this breached their personal beliefs. This study illustrates that social power of groups can incessantly shock an guiltless person , even up to near-death levels, if controlled to do so by an individual acting as an authority. The authority individuals in this experiment were merely college students who acted as prison guards. Stanford Prison Experiment and many other studies in this area have shown that human nature is malleable and to situational pressures than previously known. Overall, Stanford Prison Experiment challenges the sacrosanct perspective that observes that inner nature of the person (e.g., dispositions, character, and personality) directs individuals down righteous paths (Zimbardo, 1991).


Philip Zimbardo uses the power of situation. We see how volunteer college students were randomly given the roles to play. Some played the role of prisoners and others that of prison guards in a situation formed to suggest a sense of the psychology of custody. Impressive pragmatism infused the research. The mock prisoners were arrested, booked, shaved and deloused (Zimbardo, 2007). This act greatly humiliated them. In the prison each mock prisoner was given a number of identification, stripped naked and was supposed to wear and large smock without underclothes and confined all the time for a designed two weeks. A group of three guards watched the prisoners for 8 hr shifts. In the whole study, Zimbardo was the overseer together with 2 graduate students.

The experiment suggests that before the mock prisoners started reflecting symptoms of distress, they took the authority of their guards for granted. But it was this only for a short duration before they came to know that the stance of the guards was a serious one that called for complete obedience. This was the starting point of a chain of violence between the prison warders and inmates. The prison warders utilized body punishment and strenuous activities so as to demonstrate their power to the inmates.

In the prison the prisoners were being by punished by stripping them naked, chaining them as well as not allowing them to have enough time to sleep. The mock prisoners were also compelled to participate in humiliating games. At the end, this social setting changed them from good young persons to criminals. This situational power won the battle. The young men lost their morals and their civility. Power conquered, and unlimited power of the prisoners tended to be an aphrodisiac. All this changed the young men’s characters. In my opinion, this situational power was much related with evil. The reason behind this, I believe was due to show of power and control over others (Zimbardo, 2002). At this point, it was worth to note that, that some situations can be attributed to the cause of change of prisoner’s character and hence should be carried out with due care.

This study shed some light on how the level the human character can be changed from its normal setting to stray in unthinkable ways. We see in this experiment how the young men were transformed even to the point of believing that physical punishment was good thing for them.

This experiment has great deal of significant to all those in criminal justice system. The current system emphasizes on individual offenders and largely fails to understand the impact of the situational forces (Zimbardo, 2007). It is therefore true when it is argued that humans inflate the degree to which their actions are intentionally and logically selected or rather it is true that humans underestimate the power of situation in transforming individual behavior. In other words, from this experiment it is evident that the power of situation as great role to play in the cause anti-social behavior.

It is now than ever before that, the criminal system understands that if it is committed to its primary obligation of reducing criminal behavior, it has to put into consideration the role of situational forces in promoting criminal behavior and its role in enhancing the same. Without question the findings of this experiment reveals that the imprisoning offenders for long t period provides little if any solution to the reductions of crime behavior in our societies. In my opinion, if the criminal justice can put into play the role of situational forces in the transformation of behavior, it can formulate good approaches that can well prevent the prevalence of criminal behaviors in our communities.


This experiment tells us that, we should not ignore the power of situational forces while controlling crime in our society. This is because social group pressures, power signs and mistreatment among other situational forces inherently change the character of good person to become a criminal. It should also be understood that the situational forces which are thought to be the power of the criminal justice system but clearly the work against it.


  1. Zimbardo, P. (1991).The Psychology of Attitude Change and Social Influence. New York: McGraw-Hill
  2. Zimbardo, P. (2002). Violence Workers: Police Torturers and Murderers Reconstruct Brazilian Atrocities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  3. Zimbardo, P. (2007). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Rando House.
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