Difference Over the Years and Social Psychology

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In the last 40 years, there have been significant improvements in the ethical norms of research in the field of social psychology. Because of this development, it is now difficult to carry out a number of famous experiments from the past. One such experiment was conducted in 1971 by P. Zimbardo and his colleagues at Stanford University on prisoners and guards in a simulated prison.

During this experiment, Zimbardo placed participants in a ""prison atmosphere," separated them into two groups, and assigned them the roles of ""guards"" and ""prisoners" (Haney, Banks & Zimbardo, 1973). Part of the evaluation included questioning participants' psychological stability (Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973), which was designed to give safety within the experiment. Planned time for experiment been two weeks, however, that was stopped after 6 days because of results experimentators got: prisoners expressed intentions to do harm to others (Haney, Banks & Zimbardo, 1973), guards demonstrated violent behavior, for both sides, it becomes dangerous to continue. In the results chapter their behavior characteristics are: “negative, hostile, affrontive and dehumanizing” (Haney, Banks & Zimbardo, 1973). In fact, bad symptoms been shown already after two days, and some participants become "bystanders" as soon as possible (Haney, Banks & Zimbardo, 1973), but Zimbardo has continued experiment.

In the social psychology today such experiment could be impossible, it violates modern standards as there have been strong humiliation and distress for a passive part of participants (“prisoners”), no protection been provided for them neither physically nor psychologically, no information what could prepare participants for standing in the limits of “just role playing”. In general, that experiment is just brutal.

In total, results of Zimbardo experiment (formulated pathology of power and pathological prisoner syndrome) are invaluable for social psychology area of study, but it is strongly unethical from today point of view. Therefore, done one time it can be a great lesson for us and have never been repeated.


Haney, C., Banks, C., Zimbardo, P. (1973). A Study of Prisoners and Guards in a Simulated Prison. Naval Research Reviews, September, 1-17.

April 26, 2023

Education Psychology

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