The Stanford Prison Experiment: Is It Possible Today?

Topic: Social Psychology
Words: 594 Pages: 2

The Stanford Prison Experiment is famous worldwide for its horrifying implications for the volunteer participants’ mental health. The researchers of Stanford University, aiming to analyze the nature of human aggression and violence, held this experiment in 1971 (Le Texier, 2019). There were some students with a stable mental state chosen to perform the guards and prisoners roles. After several days, the guardians started to express aggression to the prisoners. The prison conditions and presupposition that guards had power over the prisoners made young participants experience violence and created an atmosphere of hatred within classmates. The results of this test revealed the terrifying peculiarities of human psychology. The Stanford Prison Experiment showed that people are highly affected by social cognition and inclined to express aggressiveness in particular conditions.

The second reason the experiment results were so frightening is the participants’ social cognition presuppositions. Scientists believe that aggressiveness is often correlated with mental disorders like psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder and usually is caused by the incorrect psychological value basis imposed by the particular conditions (Bermpohl, et al., 2017). However, the Stanford Prison Experiment’ participants were estimated to have strong mental health and no psychological distractions. The aggression during the experiment was caused by the particular prison conditions, which have an obviously negative image in the system of social values.

Thus, from the very beginning of their lives, students were taught to estimate the prison as a place where evil is punished. As a result, guards, followed by the mental presupposition that prisoners are evil, considered themselves better and treated themselves as those in charge of seeing the justice done. Therefore, the violence resulted from the set-ups in the social cognition of the participants.

The second reason for the violence and aggression shown during the Stanford experiment is the surrounding conditions. The prison installation was carefully planned and inspired fear in the participants. According to practical research, psychologists claim that aggression can be born from surrounding adverse conditions (Bermpohl, et al., 2017). The main point here is that people are highly influenced by the surrounding atmosphere and can change their behavior according to the conditions and other’s people behavioral patterns. In the case of the Stanford Experiment, the prison conditions were imposed on participants by researchers from the very start. As a result, the peaceful people under the particular conditions started to harass their classmates bluntly. Therefore, human psychology adapts to specific situations and follows the presupposed pattern.

The experiment revealed the peculiarities of human social psychology functioning and will have similar results if held again. Le Texier (2019), analyzing the Stanford Prison Experiment, points out that the human is a cruel creature that, under the comfortable conditions of impunity, can neglect the value of human life and cross the dangerous line of violence. Moral beliefs are secondary to the survival instincts in human nature. Therefore, being in conditions that are not entirely pleasant and can even be dangerous, people often give up morality to their instincts. Cruelty is indeed the peculiar characteristic of human nature, but it appears under particular conditions.

The Stanford Prison Experiment proves that social standards and collective thought significantly impact people’s mental health and world perception. The aggression results from the combination of the adverse prison condition and inherent to this place behavior pattern. The development of the experiments will not change if held today because human nature cannot be changed. Therefore, this experiment contributed to the better understanding of human psychology and provided people with the opportunity to analyze analyze themselves carefully and try to avoid violence in certain conditions.


Bermpohl, F., Kanske, P., Singer, T., Spengler, S., &Winter, K. (2017). Social cognition in aggressive offenders: Impaired empathy, but intact theory of mind. Scientific Reports, 7(670), 198-245. Web.

Le Texier, T. (2019). Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment. American Psychologist, 74(7), 823–839. Web.

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