The Reasons Why the Stanford Prison Experiment Was Wrong

The Stanford Prison Experiment is in some ways an experiment gone wrong. While we did learn some pretty valuable information from it, I believe there were more ethical ways to achieve the same results. While watching the video, I thought “there is no way this was at all ethical”; Mostly due to the emotional and physical stress it was clearly causing the “prisoners”. Alas, the American Psychological Association (APA) deemed in 1973 that all ethical principles were followed (Zimbardo, 1999).

In theory this makes sense, there really isn’t any ethical issues with the experiment itself, the problem lies within the power the guards were given.

While I understand the the purpose of the experiment was “to understand the development of norms and the effects of roles, labels, and social expectations in a simulated prison environment”, I believe the experiment is essentially flawed (Zimbardo, 1999). What I mean by flawed is that the results were generalized. In essence the guards were given permission to play God.

In the video the main “cruel” guard says he viewed the prisoners as puppets. At some point an individual has to wonder what caused this God complex within specific individuals.

“Abusive guard behavior appears to have been triggered by features of the situation rather than by the personality of guards” (Zimbardo, 1999). While i’m no prestigious psychologist I can’t help but disagree. I think the personality of said guards influenced their behavior although, Professor Zimbardo states that the personality scores did not predict which guards would be the most abusive (Zimbardo, 1999).

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While the tests provided to the volunteers showed no correlation between the amount of aggression applied and their personality traits, I don’t think that the personality factor should be discarded so easily.

If these college students where the average joe, why did they behave so differently? Some punished and tormented while others did not. According to an article on the experiment itself there were three kinds of guards. The first kind of guard was the “fair but tough”, this guard followed “prison rules”. The second type of guard was considered the “good guy”, these guards did not punish the prisoners and typically did them favors. The final guard that was present was the cruel guard, the one who humiliated and dehumanized the prisoners (Zimbardo, 1999). The very fact that there were different types of guards, in my opinion, is based on their moral system. Which would come from their internal ethical system, which again in turn leads to their personality. A great man by the name of Ben Parker once said “with great power comes great responsibility”. This is why I believe that the amount of power the guards felt they possessed and how these guards dealt with said power may have been influenced by their personality and their situation rather than just influenced by the situation alone.

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The Reasons Why the Stanford Prison Experiment Was Wrong. (2021, Dec 21). Retrieved from

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