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Stanford prison experiment

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An experiment, conducted in 1971 by the US social psychologist Philip G(eorge) Zimbardo (born 1933) and several colleagues, in which 24 physically and psychologically healthy male undergraduate volunteers were randomly assigned to play the roles of prisoners and guards in a mock prison for $15 per day. The prisoners wore loose-fitting smocks with ID numbers printed on them, nylon caps, and ankle chains, and the guards wore khaki uniforms and reflecting sunglasses and carried whistles and sticks. The guards were instructed to keep the prisoners incarcerated but were given no specific instructions about how to treat them. The main finding was that both groups entered into their roles excessively realistically, although they knew they were merely participating in an experiment. The prisoners became passive, helpless, and withdrawn, and the guards became aggressive and cruel, inventing ever more creative ways of abusing and humiliating the prisoners. One-third of guards manifested genuinely sadistic tendencies, and two prisoners were so emotionally traumatized that they had to be removed. The experiment was planned to run for two weeks but was abandoned after only six days after concerns were raised about its ethical justification. The findings were first published in the International Journal of Criminology and Penology in 1973. See also obedience. SPE abbrev. [So called because it was conducted at Stanford University in California, in the basement of the psychology department]

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