Was the 'Stanford Prison Experiment' Fake? This New Report Rewrites Science History

Friday, 15 June 2018 - 1:56PM
Friday, 15 June 2018 - 1:56PM
Was the 'Stanford Prison Experiment' Fake? This New Report Rewrites Science History
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Image credit: YouTube

When it was conducted in 1971, the infamous "Stanford Prison Experiment" seemed to shine a harsh light on the darkest parts of the human heart. In the years since it has been widely cited as proof that humans will "slip into" whatever roles they are given and perpetrate horrifying abuse on others when given absolute power.


However, despite its inclusion in almost every entry-level psychology textbook, new research into the experiment's records and interviews with the participants has revealed that many of the landmark study's results were due to the interference by the researchers... or they were simply faked by the students.


The psychologist who oversaw the study, Philip Zimbardo, even admitted recently that he intended the experiment to promote prison reform.

The experiment involved creating a miniature facsimile of a prison in the basement of the Stanford's Jordan Hall, complete with two groups of students who were assigned the role of either prisoners or guards. The experiment was planned to last two weeks, but was cancelled after six days when the whole thing went off the rails:


According to Zimbardo, the students playing the roles of the guards began to dehumanize the prisoners and treat them in increasingly brutal ways, even locking one of them in a closet as he screamed, "I'm burning up inside!"



The prisoners, meanwhile, started to lose their sense of identity and seemed to forget that the experiment wasn't real.

Two elements of the experiment amazed and fascinated students and psychologists for years: first, that the guards devised their a set of rules to mercilessly control the prisoners and transform them into human cattle, and second, that the prisoners seemed to genuinely go "crazy" in the prison, despite the fact that they could ask to leave at any time.


In fact, it turns out that almost all the guards' rules were provided to them by the study's overseers, that many of the students playing the role of prisoners were only acting the way they thought the study's authors wanted them to, and that the prisoner students were told they couldn't leave the experiment, even if they said the words that were supposed to release them ("I quit the experiment").

In light of these revelations, scholars are calling for the removal of the experiment from psychology textbooks and a re-evaluation of research based on the experiment.


When asked if he would defend the study, Zimbardo said, "I'm not going to defend it anymore. The defense is its longevity."

You can read more about the expose here.

Science News