Zimbardo Research

Dr. Zimbardo conducted a research study in 1971 called the Stanford Prison Study. This study was to determine what would occur if good people were put in bad places. This writing will review Dr. Zimbardo’s study and how it relates to social psychology and to humanity. It will also determine how the relevance of the study is to the relation of contemporary world issues as well as discuss the problems and ethical concerns. Lastly, this writing will review the current safeguards that are in place to reduce the likelihood of ethical concerns that might arise in research studies. The first order of business is the value of the study in relation to social psychology.

Value of the Study in Relation to Social Psychology and Humanity


     Dr. Zimbardo says the prisoners began rebelling on the second day (Classic studies in psychology, 2007). As the study continued, the guards became progressively humiliating by the day and the levels of aggression rose exponentially. After only “36 hours” one of the prisoners had to opt out because he could not mentally take any more of the abuse (Classic studies in psychology, 2007, Rebellion Video). By day five, Dr. Zimbardo stopped the study because the prisoners who were left took on a zombie-like state of blind. The value of the study showed the shocking reality that the “transformation of good kids into pathological prisoners or abusing guards” occurred “so quickly and so extremely” (Classic studies in psychology, 2007, Results Video). This only shows how humans can, if given the chance, treat other humans.

Relevance of the Study


     The relevance of Dr. Zimbardo’s study proved to be invaluable because it made it clear that most humans may seem one way in public, but they have an innate flaw called conformity. Dr. Zimbardo set the stage by having the town’s police pick up the 12 prisoners from their homes, book them in a real jail station, and then instructed them to blindfold them. Although everything seemed normal, the second day the prisoners started to rebel, which sent the guards seeking guidance. Dr. Zimbardo allowed the guards to do as they wished as long as he was informed as to their plans (Classic studies in psychology, 2007). Dr. Zimbardo stated that he was aware that there would be some type of “verbal abuse…teasing…[and] bullying” he went on to call the abuse what he observed as “creative evil” (Classic studies in psychology, 2007, Results Video).


     Dr. Zimbardo said that he did not expect the guards to think “about ways to demean, degrade, [and] dehumanize other human beings” (Classic studies in psychology, 2007, Results Video). The behaviors that Dr. Zimbardo witnessed were not normal behaviors that the participants would have exhibited; however, put in the situation that they were the guards fell into the roles of dominant rulers over their domain; whereas, the prisoners either fell into mental breakdowns or into blind obedient servants. The behaviors of all the participants proved to be invaluable because it showed that it does not matter what people say about their positions in social groups or their beliefs about different types of social statuses. If they are faced with this type of situation, they will either conform or fall in any contemporary world issue.

Problems and Ethical Concerns


     There were several problems and ethical concerns within the Stanford Prison Study. The first was the fact that Dr. Zimbardo allowed the guards to be involved a day early in the setup of the experimental location as well as the selection of their uniforms. This should have been done by the assistants who worked for Dr. Zimbardo. The second problem was having the prisoners picked up by local police officers.

This posed a problem because the participants had done nothing criminally wrong and should not have been handcuffed and taken away in a police car. The public appearance could jeopardize the participants’ futures because of contemporary world issues. The third problem presented itself when the guards addressed Dr. Zimbardo. His involvement may have influenced the guards’ decisions about how to treat or punish the prisoners. The ethical concerns focus on the mental and physical harm that came to the prisoners. Dr. Zimbardo never should have allowed that kind of treatment to the prisoners.


Nuremberg code

     Due to complaints of harm to participants of studies and experiments, the Nuremberg code was created and evolved into what is currently known as the Belmont Report. This report is “intended to assure that research involving human subjects would be carried out in an ethical manner” (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHH), n.d., Ethical Principles & Guidelines for Research Involving Human Subjects, para. 1). The report shows that the three basic ethical principles; respect of persons, beneficence, and justice are in place to protect human subjects. According to the DHH (n.d.), respect of persons is “individuals should be treated as autonomous agents, and second, that persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection” (DHH, n.d., B. Basic Ethical Principles, para. 2). Beneficence involves the treatment of humans and is the “ethical manner” they are treated as well as protecting them from harm and securing their well-being (DHH, n.d., B. Basic Ethical Principles, para. 7). The last of the three basic ethical principles is justice, which is neglected if “some benefit to which a person is entitled is denied without good reason or when some burden is imposed unduly” (DHH, n.d., B. Basic Ethical Principles, para. 11).

Another safeguard is the informed consent form. When a researcher uses participants, he or she must obtain these consent forms saying that each participant knows the details of the study and their rights as a participant. The last safeguard is the assessment of risks and benefits. This safeguard “requires a careful arrayal of relevant data, including, in some cases, alternative ways of obtaining the benefits sought in the research” (DHH, n.d., Part C: Applications, para. 13).



     Although Dr. Zimbardo’s study caused harm and was unethical, it showed many things about social psychology that were not previously known. Social psychology grew a great deal because of his work and it opened doors for this field of psychology that may have stayed closed for years longer than they were. There were safeguards put in place to reduce the risk of these events from reoccurring.


Classic studies in psychology. (2007). Retrieved September 29, 2014, from http://digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?aid=7967&xtid=40125

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). The Belmont Report. Retrieved from http://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/belmont.html

Featured image: Lazaridis, G. (Posted February 19, 2013). The Stanford prison experiment – Questioned its morality [Psychology]. Retrieved from http://www.pcbheaven.com/opendir/index.php?show=527dh2028oc1907b685

Image source for mind blown: What Can Stress Do To You? (Posted: February 11, 2015). Guide to emotional and nervous breakdowns. Retrieved from: http://whatcanstressdotoyou.com/guide-to-emotional-and-nervous-breakdowns/

Image source for the Nuremberg code: U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Last Updated: September 23, 2015). Nuremberg code slide show. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/01/slides/3803s1_02_Kodish/sld020.htm

Image source for prisoner and guard: Alexander, M. (Posted: August 22, 2001). Thirty years later, Stanford Prison Experiment lives on. Retrieved from http://news.stanford.edu/news/2001/august22/prison2-822.html

Image source for people leaving jail: Leach, A. (June 24, 2014). Prison doesn’t work 50% of the time, so why do we keep sending people there? Retrieved from http://www.mirror.co.uk/authors/ampp3d-from-mirror/prison-doesnt-work-50-time-3748230

Image source for wrong and right note stickers: Ford, D. (June 25, 2013). Report: Ethics issues create risks for younger workers. Retrieved from http://associationsnow.com/2013/06/report-ethics-issues-create-risks-for-younger-workers/

Zimbardo Research