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Revisiting The Stanford Prison Experiment: A Lesson In The Power Of Situation Zambardo Add in library

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Describe about the Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment,  A Lesson in the Power of Situation Zambardo?


Two studies

Classic: Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a Lesson in the Power of Situation. Zambardo

Modern: Stressing the Group: Social Identity and the Unfolding Dynamics of Responses to Stress.

Haslam, S. Alexander Reicher, Stephen


Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a Lesson in the Power of Situation. Zambardo


This study was conducted to understand how the participants would react when they were placed in a simulated situation. Researchers of all ages had an interest to find out, which is the winning factor in practical life, an evil situation or good people. To find out the fact Zimbardo conducts an experiment. Zimbardo performed an experiment to check if human beings could change (behavior wise) according to their surroundings. In 1973, Professor Zimbardo showed his interest to find out whether the violence amongst guards in American prison was due to aggressive personalities of the guard, i.e. dispositional or had more to do with the prison environment or situational (Zimbardo, 2007). To conduct the research, the prisoners and the prison guards conferred well to their assigned duties. They acted out as if in real life.

In this experiment, the null hypothesis stated that social life does not affect the behavior of a person (Thoits, 2013). However, according to our findings the social place of the prison and the prison wardens change their behavior, thus we rejected the null hypothesis. In our conclusion, the research supported the situational theory


Literature Review

In 1973, Philip Zimbardo decided to find out a psychological study on how a human would respond while in captivity. He performed this experiment while he was a junior lecturer at Stanford's Psychology Department. He took students to role-play as “prisoners" and "guard". Both parties were offered an incentive of $15 per day. This would motivate them to act as if they are in the real world. His main interest was to understand if the environment largely contributed the brutality of wardens or not. They took the basement of the Stanford University Psychology Department. The mock prison was prepared to look exactly like a prison; with grilled doors and windows, bare walls and tiny cells with tiny beds (Magnusson & Magnusson, 2013). The prisoners were dressed in uniforms and the guards were dressed in khaki uniform with whistles and handcuffs. Zimbardo himself was a correctional officer in order to make clear observations. Both the prisoners and the guard conformed well into their roles. During an initiation meeting, Zimbardo, himself was a correctional officer of the experiment and he notified the guards that the only rule in this experiment is that physical punishment is not allowed (Cooper & Baglioni, 2013). The guards, other than that were allowed to run the prison as they want and were split into routine working patterns and shifts.

Research question

The research was undertaken in order to find out if people would conform to the role of the prisoner and a correctional officer once exposed to prison life.


H0: Social roles do not affect the behavior of a person

H1: Social roles have an effect on the behavior of a person.


The researcher conducted a real life experiment to gather data. The experiment was performed in a real life set up prison in the basement of the university. To collect the data for the experiment, one needed to observe the subjects closely and record their behavior (Ursin, 2012). Therefore, Zimbardo acted as one of the prison wardens. The guards were given sunglasses in order to avoid eye contact with the prisoners (who were supposedly their colleagues at the University) and sticks, just in case the "prisoners" behaved in a rowdy manner (Hobfoll, 2011). Local police was asked to take the fingerprints of the “prisoners”, captured from their homes and subject them to “jail”.



Within a few hours, the prisoners and the guards adapted to their respective roles. Some guards started punishing the prisoners. They were treated badly, and this seemed to be fun to them. Soon the other guards joined in the “enjoyment” and started punishing prisoners without any reason. The prisoners had adopted their roles as they had started taking the prison rules seriously. Even some of them started to report to the guards if their fellow prison mates broke any prison rules.


Our null hypothesis was social roles do not affect the behavior of a person. However, when we followed the experiment thoroughly we found that the subjects in this experiment took lesser time to adapt with the given environment than assumed by the researcher. It has also been observed that some of them actually adopt themselves with the environment readily and started behaving like real life, guards. They started dominating the prisoner as well as punishing them unnecessarily. Soon after, the other guards joined with them and they actually started enjoying their “power” and forgot who they really are. Therefore, after going through this experiment, we tend to reject the null hypothesis. This is owing to the fact that people will automatically conform to the social roles given to them. The findings of this experiment fully support the situational theory.

Modern Study

Stressing the Group: Social Identity and the Unfolding Dynamics of Responses to Stress.

Haslam, S. Alexander Reicher, Stephen


The purpose of this research paper is to find more about how social identity processes affect the participation of individuals. This experiment was carried out by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). The BBC assigned their participants randomly to low status groups (as prisoner) and high status groups (as guards) (Haslam & Reicher, 2006). They were exposed to prison cell conditions; some acting as guards and others as prisoners. The researcher group collected psychological, psychometric, observational and behavioral data. Cortisol levels were also taken and every conversation of the participants was recorded. After analyzing the data, the results were found and quite interestingly, the result did not agree with the findings of Zimbardo’s experiment. It can be assumed that bias in data collection led to the incorrect results. In our conclusion, we saw that social identity affected a person in all aspects such as behavioral, psychometrically and psychologically.


Literature review

In 2001, Haslam and Steve Reicher collaborated to perform an experiment on the BBC television program. They wanted to review the issues that came up from Zimbardo's' experiment at Stanford University (Psychology Department) (Schwarzer, 2014). Social identity is an individual’s sense of belonging. A sample of 15 participants was randomly selected. They were assigned to either low or high-status category (prisoner or guard). For the purpose of experiment, the guards were grouped in the high status while the prisoners were grouped in the low-status category (Altman & Wohlwill, 2012). Their behavior was studied for eight days by the researchers. The experiment was designed as harmless as possible. To ensure the safety of the participants, they were subjected to go through a three phase clinical check up (Appley & Trumbull, 2012).

The prisoners were kept in a three-person lockable cell with all amenities provided (Water, a toilet, toiletries and a sink). They made sure that a hierarchical atmosphere is created in the institution. The participants were wired, so that anything they said could be recorded.

Research Question

This research is aimed to determine if self-categorization theories and the social identity in organizations, clinical and social environment had any correlation between them.

To find out if the low-status group (prisoners) would be buffered by the social identity, they found there, or they would give in to the strains of the level (being bullied and facing the poor conditions there).


H0: Social identity-based processes do not affect participants; in terms of experiencing stress

H1: Social identity-based processes have a big impact on applying stress to the participants.

H0: Effects of the stressors in the prison do not rely on the guard level of social identification.

H1: Effects of the stressors in the prison largely depend on the guard level of social identifications.



Research methods used in this experiment was observational, psychological, psychometrical and behavioral. Data was collected in multiple sessions throughout the eight days. They even wired the participants to get the right information with the recordings (Beehr, 2014). In addition to that, they measured the Cortisol level of every participant everyday so that they can monitor their stress levels. Since the participants were under surveillance throughout, this ensured good observations both psychological and psychometric. It was observed that the guards harassed and bullied the prisoners.


Findings supported that the enhanced social identity model of stress that addresses intergroup and intra group dynamics of the stress process.  Their social identification changed with time (for both of the groups, the prisoners and the guards). The amount of cortisol level was very high for both groups, but a bit higher on most guards as compared to the prisoners. Even though the prisoners were exposed to bullying, the guards are the ones who were found to be experiencing much bullying from fellow guards (Kaplan, 2013).


The prisoners showed signs of distress, but also they had conformed and adapted to the system. They put up with the hardships. It was observed that the increasing sense of “shared identity” helped them to support each other, which in turn helped them to fight back against the adverse effects of “situational stressors”. This behavior led to the guards feeling more insecure. This led them to disregard most complaints of  the prisoners. The guards started criticizing each other on the grounds of how they were handling the prisoners. It was evident that the “social identity” increased among the prisoners. The ability for the high status not having a shared identity led them to deal poorly with the set stressors. Therefore, we are bound to reject our null hypothesis.

On the other hand, in Zimbardo's study, the guards were comfortable with their identity due to his leadership role. Hence, they supported each other and buffered themselves against the stressors in place. They only showed signs of being stressed and burnt out. This shows stress, like any other psychological state, cannot be explained by using results on role, rather it comes from the way our social identity easily accepts our roles to be carried.



Altman, I., & Wohlwill, J. F. (2012). Human behavior and environment: Advances in theory and research (Vol. 2). Springer Science & Business Media.

Appley, M. H., & Trumbull, R. A. (Eds.). (2012). Dynamics of stress: Physiological, psychological and social perspectives. Springer Science & Business Media.

Beehr, T. A. (2014). Psychological Stress in the Workplace (Psychology Revivals). Routledge.

Cooper, C. L., & Baglioni Jr, A. J. (2013). A structural model approach toward the development of a theory of the link between stress and mental health. From Stress to Wellbeing Volume 1: The Theory and Research on Occupational Stress and Wellbeing, 1, 47.

Haslam, S. A., & Reicher, S. (2006). Stressing the group: social identity and the unfolding dynamics of responses to stress. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(5), 1037.

Hobfoll, S. E. (2011). Conservation of resources theory: Its implication for stress, health, and resilience. The Oxford handbook of stress, health, and coping, 127-147.

Kaplan, H. B. (Ed.). (2013). Psychosocial stress: Trends in theory and research. Academic Press.

Magnusson, D., & Magnusson, D. (Eds.). (2013). Toward a psychology of situations: An interactional perspective. Psychology Press.

Schwarzer, R. (2014). Self-efficacy: Thought control of action. Taylor & Francis.

Thoits, P. A. (2013). Self, identity, stress, and mental health. In Handbook of the sociology of mental health (pp. 357-377). Springer Netherlands.

Ursin, H. (Ed.). (2012). Psychobiology of stress: A study of coping men. Elsevier.

Zimbardo, P. G. (2007). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: A Lesson in the Power of Situation. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(30).


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