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Sample Essay on Stanford Prison Study

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Sample Essay on Stanford Prison Study


The Stanford prison case study is a virtual creation by Zimbardo trying to investigate the effects that prisoners and the guards had while in prison. In this, they were performing an investigative study on how human behavior is affected by various situational variables. From the study, only a few of the 24 initial participants were able to resist the situation temperaments to maintain some sort of morality and decency, while others quitted the test citing distress and emotional imbalance on the second day. The prisoners in the test study  behaved in ways they would normally not behave and became passive and depressed.

Citing the Stamford prison case study, there are many other psychological prisons that human have designed apart from the physical prisons that are built of steel and iron. Some situations that human being is subjected to are worse than the prison conditions and lead to psychological and physical harm. Taking an example of a strict employer-employee relationship, an employee may feel as if he/she is in jail due to the psychological torture and abusive environment that they may be prone to. At the same time, in marriages where one spouse “controls” or view the other as the slave creates a scenario of a guard and the prisoner. One may also be a prisoner of self whereby psychological suffering occurs as a result of condition like shyness, hopelessness, helplessness, stereotype or self-profiling. Other invisible handcuffs includes the stagnation and social depression due to religious fanaticism or sexism that may hinder the freedom of thoughts, thus creating an illusion of mental incarceration with a guard and the prisoner being self.

Prisons limit limits individual freedom and they differ from the self-made prisons that are mind created and psychological in nature, unlike the physical confinement of the real person. Racism for example, is a social construction that can be deconstructed after the society accepts the fact that equality for all mankind exists. This is unlike the prison setting where one is held for committing crimes.

The ethical dilemmas brought forth by the obedience experiment by Mailgram’s and Stanford prison experiment are comparable  in the sense that there was the human rights abuse as well as the repression of freedom. The participants in the experiment, suffered from situational factors and different stressors that affected their psychological setup, their bodies and emotions (Haney, Banks & Zimbardo, 1973). They were both put in inhumane conditions, and subjected to low standards that led to their depressed status. Despite these facts, the studies gave very crucial information in regard to the human behavior when subjected to situational factors (Blass, 1999). It therefore helped in explaining and providing key information on the suffering, conditions, and life that goes on behind bars where some prisoners were crying and  others plotting escape. It also creates a platform that could be relied upon when implementing policies and procedures to be used in the prison system. The facts and observation recorded also serves well in the field of psychology and especially in the study of how human beings react to different situational settings (American Psychological Association, 2004).  The experiment at the same time indicated the use and misuse of power within the social setting, where some of the guards are abusive, others hostile, and others hospitable. . It was therefore important that the studies were carried out despite their ethical implications.







American Psychological Association. (2004, June, 8). Demonstrating the Power of Social Situations via a Simulated Prison Experiment. 

Blass, T. (Ed.). (1999). Obedience to authority: Current perspectives on the Milgram paradigm. Psychology Press.

Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Reviews, 9 (1-17).


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