Stanford Prison Experiment Analysis

In the film there were many different research methods used. One research method was that it was a Lab Experiment, meaning the experiment was conducted in a controlled environment. This does not have to mean a lab and in this case, it was the basement of a college, manipulated to look like a prison. It may also be considered a case study because it was a randomly selected group of college boys that were being studied, in-depth, for 6 days until the experiment was terminated.

Towards the end of the study, Dr. Zimbardo was no longer just observing the case from behind closed doors, but rather making himself an active member. This makes the study an observational experiment because he was acting as if he was part of it and recording the behaviors.

The three primary ethical responsibilities that psychologists must keep in mind when conducting research on humans are autonomy, beneficence, and justice. Autonomy was the biggest ethical responsibility violated in the film.

The right for subjects to determine what they participate in. The prisoners had no say in what they did, they solely followed the orders of the guards. When they refused to follow orders, they were punished. Also, Dr. Zimbardo did not give full informed consent to the prisoners about what they would be experiencing in the study, nor provide information on the benefits and risks associated. Finally, participants should be able to leave an experiment whenever they would like, and that right was denied to all prisoners in the study.

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As for beneficence, the prisoners held all of the risks in the study, while the guards did not have any risks. Early in the movie, the prisoners were shown saying that it was not fair that they had to put up with the guards and live in cells while the guards got to do whatever they pleased. This is a clear violation of beneficence in the raw form. Beneficence also requires the study to minimize risk of harm to the participants, which was not enforced. The prisoners were beaten and shoved into a small closet, along with being forced to act in ways that were against their morals. The experiment did not fully violate the third principle, justice. The prisoners were told that they would participating in a study of prison life. The choice of who was to be a guard and who was to be a prisoner was by flip of a coin. Also, the participants were not “unfairly coerced”, meaning they were deemed normal.

The nervous system of the human body is complex. It is first split into two parts, the Central Nervous System (CNS), consisting of the brain and spinal cord, and the Peripheral Nervous System, which is everything else (PNS). The PNS can be further broken down into the Somatic Nervous System (voluntary) and the Autonomic Nervous System (involuntary). The Autonomic Nervous System contains two more parts. The Sympathetic controls organs in times of stress, meaning “fight or flight”. The Parasympathetic controls organs when the body is at rest. During the movie, the prisoners “fight or flight” system was activated many times. The first time was when the prisoner put his hand around the guard’s throat and the guard hit him with his night stick. This represents the “fight”. During this experience, the prisoner just wanted the guard to stop harassing him and he did not know the extent of what the guard was capable of, causing him to take the chance and fight. The “flight” response occurred when the two prisoners tried to escape and ran through the halls until they were caught by Dr. Zimbardo and the guards. Throughout the entire experiment, the prisoners were in a constant “fight or flight” situation and their reactions changed often. During this, the prisoners were so afraid of what may happen if they tried to fight the guards and saw no benefit to doing so, instead they ran from the situation.

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Stanford Prison Experiment Analysis. (2022, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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