40 years on, the Stanford prison experiment continues to disturb
I first heard of the Stanford prison experiment several years ago in a televised lecture by Philip Zimbardo, the psychologist who devised and conducted it. It was a gripping way to learn of it, I can tell you. And wow, does the cultural memory of it, not to mention the lessons from it, continue to have legs.
“Forty years ago a group of students hoping to make a bit of holiday money turned up at a basement in Stanford University, California, for what was to become one of the most notorious experiments in the study of human psychology. The idea was simple – take a group of volunteers, tell half of them they are prisoners, the other half prison wardens, place them in a makeshift jail and watch what happens. The Stanford prison experiment was supposed to last two weeks but was ended abruptly just six days later, after a string of mental breakdowns, an outbreak of sadism and a hunger strike….”It does tell us that human nature is not totally under the control of what we like to think of as free will, but that the majority of us can be seduced into behaving in ways totally atypical of what we believe we are.”
Full story at BBC News
Excerpt from a documentary about the experiment: