Stanford Experiment 1971

Leading on from the Stanley Milgram experiment in 1961, I have become very interested in the Stanford prison experiment in 1971.

I find this particular experiment particularly fascinating. It differed from the Stanley Milgram study in the sense that the volunteers weren’t being told what to do, how this experiment played out was all their own doing which is remarkable that ‘good’ people could act in this way.

It reveals how environment is essential to the dynamics of human nature, a particular environment can transform one’s personality and turn good into evil. Therefore strengthening the theory that most if not all humans have the capability of committing vile acts in the face of a certain environment or particular authority. This experiment along side the Stanley Milgram study reveals an element of society that I am not entirely comfortable with. The studies go some way in proving that there is a Nazi in all of us.

This lecture by Philip Zimbardo makes reference to the case of Abu ghraib in 2004 when american soldiers abused and dehumanized Iraqi prisoners. The suggestion is that we all think these soldiers are evil, however it is much more the environment and power which is making them so. The image below being one of the least shocking photos suggests how shocking this photographs are.


In the Stanford experiment one of the guards stated that the uniform and particularly glasses they wore became a mask. This allowed them to behave in a way they wouldn’t normally behave, it essentially prevented a weakness and solidified a dominance.¬†Privileged people like to this good and evil traits are fixed in people, however this is far from the case it is environment which controls this in most cases.


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