The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971)
The Stanford prison experiment (SPE) was a study of the psychological effects of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The experiment was conducted at Stanford University on August 14–20, 1971, by a team of researchers led by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo using college students. It was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and was of interest to both the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as an investigation into the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners. The experiment is a classic study on the psychology of imprisonment and is a topic covered in most introductory psychology textbooks.
The participants adapted to their roles well beyond Zimbardo's expectations, as the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue. Two of the prisoners quit the experiment early, and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days, to an extent because of the objections of Christina Maslach. Certain portions of the experiment were filmed, and excerpts of footage are publicly available.