How the Stanford Prison Experiment Change Prison System

The Stanford Prison Experiment was part of a hands on experiment that Phillip Zimbardo wanted to conduct. This experiment sheds some light on how the prison system is, how prisoners feel, and how they deal with emotions. The goal however of the Stanford experiment was to see what happens when good people are placed in certain situations. The detail that is thought out by Zimbardo was something significant that stood out to me. Along with this experiment, Zimbardo also discusses the Lucifer Effect. The question I thought about knowing what the Lucifer effect was, how exactly do good people turn evil? The Stanford Prison Experiment and the Lucifer effect I believe explain just that.

This experiment was conducted by Phillip Zimbardo, who had a dual role in the experiment. Zimbardo was prison superintendent and faculty member. The prisoners and guards were randomly picked and assigned their role in the experiment. Between prison guards and prisoners, they were all male college students. “These boys were arbitrarily divided into two subgroups by a flip of the coin” (Zimbardo p.2). They resided in Stanford during the summer and were originally from all over the United States and Canada. They prisoners and guards were middle class students and well educated. In this study, students were no longer students. Rather, they were part of what was to be a 2-week experiment. Guards were to oversee the prison facility and had two shifts. Prisoners were stuck in a cell, were forced to dress in a gown, and had little self-control of themselves. It is interesting to note that although this was an experiment, roles were played out very well. I believe that the demographics of the participants were slightly affected by the dynamics and results. For example, being that they were just participants, they knew it was going to be a two week experiment. Yet, being in the prison and getting treated horribly still affected them drastically. At first, I thought that the students wouldn’t take it serious and it turned out to be quite opposite. I thought that these individuals are good well educated people, there could be no way that the system could change them. I thought they would know how to cope with their emotions. After the experiment, I realized that the demographics of the participants did not matter.

The results were not affected nor were the dynamics. For many, the system is real life. The system and prison life turns them into someone they never thought they would be. If the demographics were to include women, then I believe it would be different. As we read in chapter 3 of the textbook, the author discusses gender roles. I think that if the experiment included women then the dynamic would be a bit different. Maybe the approach towards the guards wouldn’t have been so rebellious and turned out peaceful. “Although men and women are equally likely to engage in aggressive behavior, men engage in significantly more violent behavior” (DeLamater, Myers, & Collett p.376). It would have also been interesting to know how many of the participants were mothers and how they dealt being away from their children. “For many decades, gender role definitions in American society made mothers primarily responsible for raising children” (DeLamater, Myers, & Collett p.71). It would be interesting to see if chaos would still exist with women being part of the experiment. I think there would be a greater deal of emotion than what the Stanford Prison Experiment had. Now let’s just say the demographics were opposite than what the participants in the Stanford experiment had, then I believe it would have been worse. It would have been worse if there were different ages and unhealthy men in this experiment. As it is, one of the prisoners developed a psychosomatic rash. He was treated then released. I believe that dealing with an older unhealthy prisoner would involve a greater deal of testing if he suffered more than a rash.

The research study itself was a whole new realm for its participants. These were college students, who might have had no worry in the world being students. They did as they pleased, went to sleep when they wanted to, and ate what they pleased. As it is, they were college students going into an unfamiliar place and environment. Resocialization occurred once they stepped foot into the prison. There were no windows or clocks. They were used to being called out by their name, and now they were being placed in cells with numbers as their “name”. Their number was something they had to become familiar with and had to learn. They developed new behaviors in how they sat as they were their prison gown. These were grown adult men closing their legs how women typically do. They felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. The prisoners were chained up, ankle to ankle. They were no longer part of society, and they soon realized and believed they were real life prisoners. The guards had all of the authority. The guards would give direction to the prisoners and tell them what they can and cannot do. “Now the guards began to step up even ore their control, authority, surveillance and aggression (Zimbardo p.7).

In the YouTube interview with Phillip Zimbardo, he discusses how it was difficult to deal with a dual role. He discusses how he was corrupted by the experiment in which made him to become uncaring of the suffering he was seeing as his experiment was transpiring before his eyes as prison superintendent. After the second day of the experiment, the prisoners were being extremely rebellious. This was the behavior they learned while being in prison. They became unfamiliar with themselves and their surroundings. “They did not have the power to choose to leave the experiment because it was no longer an experiment to then” (Zimbardo p.13). The guards however, felt opposite. They felt in charge and important.

The Stanford prison experiment was pretty interesting to me. The willingness of the students to volunteer to be part of a prison experience, completely not knowing what to expect was what stood out to me. I have never been to jail or prison, but have heard people talk about it. From the reading and YouTube video that Phillip Zimbardo discusses compared to the conversations I have had in regards to prison treatment and living, it was similar. Although, I don’t think at this present time that correction officers or guards can get away with treating inmates poorly or making them do extensive exercises as the Stanford guard prisoners did, there is some corruption that I think does happen at prison facilities. This type of corruption, as Zimbardo discusses messes with peoples state of mind, especially prisoners. I would like to compare this to a television serious that I have seen on A&E called, 60 Days In. Normal individuals who have not committed crimes are willing to go in a prison complex and get treated how prisoners do. This is similar although not as harsh as the Stanford prison experiment. For example, in the show, they can make certain hand signals or gestures that indicate they are feeling unsafe. In comparison to the Stanford prison experiment, no special treatment was given to them. There was no escape for them when they felt emotional or in distress. They had to learn to deal with their own emotions and role identities. I think the Stanford Prison Experiment achieved this to a great extent in stimulating a real-world experience. It all seemed real and seemed as if this would be a normal reaction to people who are good and how they end up turning evil. Putting someone who is good in a cell and getting told what to do, while being served cold food should expect a reaction. This experiment messed with them psychologically. Out of two weeks that the experiment was expected to last, it lasted 6 days. It ended once lawyers started to show up attempting to bail out the prisoners. This was when the research experiment ended. “We had indeed created a prison in which people were suffering, in which some boys called prisoners were withdrawing, becoming isolated and behaving in pathological ways” (Zimbardo p.16). I believe that sometimes guards see things happen and do nothing to help out the prisoner. I have seen this on the A&E show discussed earlier. Many times, this is why prisoners become aggressive towards guards and eventually end up being rebellious.

Human behavior I believe is tested at all times. Regardless if a person is good or bad. It is always important to expect a reaction towards and action that is done. The reaction towards this experiment was full of tension, emotion and authority. “Nevertheless, we withhold retaliation when we perceive that an attack was not intentional” (DeLamater, Myers & Collett p.377). The guards would intentionally refuse requests from the prisoners. While hiding from surveillances, the guards would also intentionally trip the prisoners or just be cruel to them because they had authority. The Stanford Prison Experiment has generated so much dispute in terms of research ethics because of how these students turned prisoners were treated. The guards had different shifts, which meant different moods. “Harm to participants in research can take a variety of forms, including physical harm and psychological harm” (DeLamater, Myers & Collett p.58).

Indeed, many of the prisoners became manipulated into believing that they were prisoners. The stench of urine and feces lingered for days because guards would just not listen to the prisoners. It seemed a bit unethical, yet it was important to keep in mind that role identities were being played. The prison superintendent had no clue this was happening, yet the lead researcher, Zimbardo did. Prisoners would yell and cry. Emotions were flying high for the 6 days the experiment lasted. “Volunteer prisoners suffered physical and psychological abuse hour after hour for days, while volunteer guards were exposed to the new self-knowledge that they enjoyed being powerful and had abused this power to make other human beings suffer”(Zimbardo p. 243). Although, it was just a research study, it had me questioning how far is too far? It was clear that the prisoners were suffering. The Stanford Prison Experiment conform to ethical standards because at the end of it all, some of these participants benefited from it. From a research ethics perspective, I believe that more cameras should have been placed, especially in blind spots. If there were more cameras, the guards could have been held accountable for their actions.

Phillip Zimbardo outdid himself with this experiment. I believe that The Lucifer Effect does exist! I believe that the Stanford Prison Experiment provides a limelight on how good, healthy people turn bad because of their environment. When good people are not around things they are familiar with, it becomes uncomfortable for them. They tend to let their emotions get the best of them. In day 2 of the Stanford Experiment a rebellion was created because of the conditions set by the guards. I believe that with every action, we can expect a reaction. As Zimbardo mentions, good people can be seduced to be bad. Those who we consider bad can get the help through programs or rehabilitation. Other ways I believe that we can interpret the dynamics of this study is that evil exists all around us. It seems inevitable to believe that people cannot turn bad, because the devil was once an angel.


  • DeLamater, J. D., Myers, D. J., & Collett, J. L. (2015). Social psychology. Boulder: Westview Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.
  • Zimbardo, P. (1971). The Stanford Prison Experiment: A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment. [Pdf] Stanford University, Stanford Digital Repository, Stanford.
  • Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). On the ethics of intervention in human psychological research: With special reference to the Stanford prison experiment. Cognition, 2(2), 243-256.
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How the stanford prison experiment change prison system. (2021, Apr 07). Retrieved September 23, 2022 , from

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