Zibardo’s Prison Study, Was it Ethical? The Effect of Environment Essay Example

Zimbardo and his colleagues at Stanford were brought into question regarding brutality by prison guards; is it due to their disposition of genes or the prison environment? For instance, if a guard had a naturally dominant and ordering personality while a prisoner was naturally defiant, would the guard want to punish this said prisoner due to his disposition. The question arises whether or not hypothetical guards and prisoners are influenced by the environment or if it is truly the fault of their disposition.

The question that ultimately underlies this research is does the environment cause people to act a certain way or is it in their personality? While we did discover that the environment was mainly responsible for actions of prison guards we also saw the consequences of putting people in those kinds of conditions. As you could assume from being locked in a six-by-nine foot cell, one prisoner, referred to as #8612, started to uncontrollably cry, rage, and have unorganized thoughts. At first they sent him back to his cell calling him weak and offering him “informant” status. When he returned to his cell he began to act crazy, cursing, raging, and screaming; Stanford’s psychologists then decided to withdraw him from the experiment. This experiment proved that the environment affects how people react in certain situations while also showing how confinement and punishment affects prisoners mentally.

I think that this study should have been conducted, but in a different manner. The “guards” used their power in such a way that “prisoners” broke down. This experiment was detrimental to their mental health. Zimbardo was technically “warden” of this “prison”, so he had total control over how far these “guards” could go punishment wise. When they denied #8612 his ability to leave the experiment Zimbardo could clearly tell that he needed to leave or his mental state would only deteriorate. When another prisoner, #819, talked to a priest, he finally broke down and instead of removing him from this experiment he was sent to rest.

One guard knew he wouldn’t have repercussions, they had other prisoners chant about how #819 was a bad prisoner. #819 could hear :prisoners chanting and breaking down even further. When they tried to convince him to agree to leave the experiment he thought that he couldn’t because other prisoners labelled him a bad prisoner.  Although the research’s purpose was not to drive participants to this calibre, this experiment made “guards” think they had power while “prisoners” were put in situations that were mentally unhealthy. 

In future research experiments, there should be stricter rules on humane treatments. The leader of these experiments should pay closer attention to metal state of their research participants so that situations like #8619 or #819 failed to happen. If any future research could potentially do harm to partakers of the experiment, there should be a specific protocol for overseeing issues related to mental state and/or health. They should still be able to do experiments similar to this one, but under more controlled circumstances. 

Works Cited

Mcleod, Saul. “The Stanford Prison Experiment.” Stanford Prison Experiment | Simply Psychology, 1 Jan. 1970, www.simplypsychology.org/zimbardo.html.

Cherry, Kendra. “Why the Stanford Prison Experiment Is Still Infamous Decades Later.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 24 June 2019, www.verywellmind.com/the-stanford-prison-experiment-2794995.



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