UOP PSYCH/ 620 Week Assignment – Exploring a Classic Study i…

Exploring a Classic Study in Social Psychology


Social psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the presence of others and the social context. One of the ways social psychologists examine social phenomena is through conducting experiments. Throughout history, numerous classic studies have significantly contributed to our understanding of human behavior in social situations. This assignment aims to explore one such classic study in social psychology – the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted by psychologist Philip Zimbardo in 1971, sought to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power on individuals in a simulated prison environment. The experiment involved the participation of 24 male college students, who were randomly assigned to either the role of prisoners or prison guards. The study was conducted in the basement of the Stanford University Psychology Department and was intended to last for two weeks.


The participants in the experiment were carefully selected to be psychologically and physically healthy. The prisoners were arrested from their homes, deloused, and given prison uniforms. Meanwhile, the prison guards were given a uniform and instructed to maintain order within the prison. Zimbardo, acting as the superintendent, provided minimal guidelines to the guards, allowing them to establish their own rules within legal and ethical boundaries.

The study began with a relatively calm and peaceful atmosphere. However, it quickly escalated into a situation of psychological and emotional distress. The guards started to exert their authority over the prisoners by using strategies such as humiliation, physical punishment, and psychological manipulation. The prisoners, on the other hand, began to exhibit signs of distress, anxiety, and helplessness.

Ethical Considerations

The Stanford Prison Experiment faced significant ethical concerns that have sparked ongoing debates within the field of psychology. The experiment crossed several boundaries in terms of the ethical treatment of participants. Zimbardo himself became engrossed in his role as the superintendent and failed to recognize the extent of the emotional harm inflicted upon the participants. The study was abruptly terminated after only six days due to the severe psychological distress experienced by the prisoners.

Findings and Impact

The Stanford Prison Experiment shed light on the power of situational factors in influencing individuals’ behaviors. The study demonstrated how ordinary individuals, when placed in positions of power, can quickly become prone to abuses of that power and engage in cruel and dehumanizing behaviors. Moreover, it revealed the profound impact of social roles on individuals’ self-perception and behaviors.

This study had a significant impact on the field of psychology and generated considerable controversy. It raised important questions about the ethics of conducting research and the responsibility of researchers to ensure the well-being of participants. It also challenged the assumption that individual behavior is solely based on dispositional characteristics, emphasizing the role of the social context.

The study also raised concerns about the generalizability of the findings. Critics argue that the artificial nature of the experiment, in which participants knew they were taking part in a study, may have influenced their behavior. Additionally, the sample size was small and consisted of a specific demographic (college students), limiting the generalizability of the findings to a wider population.

Nevertheless, despite the ethical concerns and limitations, the Stanford Prison Experiment remains a landmark study in social psychology. It continues to be cited and discussed in textbooks and scholarly articles, serving as a reminder of the power of social situations in shaping human behavior. The study provided valuable insights into the potential for abuse of power and the need for ethical considerations in conducting psychological research.


The Stanford Prison Experiment is a classic study in social psychology that explored the effects of perceived power on individuals’ behavior in a simulated prison environment. It raised important questions about the influence of social roles, ethical considerations in research, and the power of situational factors in shaping behavior. Despite its limitations and controversial nature, the study remains a significant contribution to the field of social psychology.