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The Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971, a team of researchers led by Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo performed the Stanford Prison Experiment at the Stanford University. Their goal was to determine the psychological effects of being a prisoner or a prisoner guard and the US Office of Naval Research funded this research, as they wanted to know what causes the conflict between military guards and prisoners.

25 students took on the role of prisoners and were immersed in a prison set-up in the basement of the Stanford Psychology building. Each participant took on different roles and everyone was able to adapt to their parts easily. Zimbardo was designated as the prison superintendent to supervise what transpired during the experiment. Those who were assigned to be military guards got into their roles and even performed punishments to the prisoners. Eventually, some prisoners ended up accepting the torturous acts inflicted on them. Zimbardo also became too immersed in his role and allowed the punishments to be performed as if he were really the head of a prison facility.

The experiment lasted only for six days from August 14 to 20 as five prisoners decided to quit the experiment and several participants felt that things were getting out of hand. Until this day, the results of the experiments and process performed are considered controversial. The conclusion of the team is that the behavior of a person is determined by the situation and not by the inherent nature of that person.

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