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Stanford Prison Experiment: The Ethical Issues

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In the Stanford prison project, they took a group and made some guards and some prisoners. The guards began to abuse and verbally torture the prisoners. The university students participated willingly with no use of force. These students signed contracts that listed instructions for what was expected of them. The experiment lasted for two weeks and they were paid for their time. The guard participants were told physical aggression and punishment was not allowed. The plan was to study how guards and prisoners reacted to their situations. Each prisoner was arrested and blind folded to the jail. The prisoners were strip searched and chained. The first prisoner to be arrested was outraged at the way he was treated. The guards were issued mirrored sunglasses and a night stick. They were assigned to an individual prisoner and had to do line-ups daily. The guards had total control over the prisoners. Everything was video recorded in the prison. Each participant was interviewed by the researchers throughout the experiment to see their reactions. They ended up stopping the experiment early because the guards were abusing power and the prisoners were rebelling in return. Five prisoner participants had to be released early because of acute anxiety due to their severe treatment. The guards were pugnacious towards the prisoners without reason. The guards were disappointed when the experiment ended early. I was appalled at the way the guards took things to extremes on their own accord.

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There were many ethical issues with this experiment. The prisoners did not agree to being arrested at home. The guards were told to increase the voltage for every wrong answer and didn’t stop when the prisoners begged them to. These were regular people torturing an innocent participant. Zimbardo Stanford was in control of the guards. This was unethical because it was his experiment. The guards punished one of the prisoners for rebelling by putting him in the hole. They even started waking them up in the middle of the night to do grit work. They also talked the leader of the rebellion to be a snitch and lie to the other prisoners. The situation was supposed to be an experiment, but the guards took it to an unreal level. No one was making the guards mistreat the prisoners. The torturous treatment was done of their free will. Another ethical issue was that there were know actual rules for the guards or prisoners. These men really believed they were unable to get out. The prisoners were accepting whatever the guards told them was reality. The guards treated these men like animals and had not a second thought about it. The prisoners were mentally berated and made to do things no one should be subjected to. The students had to clean toilets with their bare hands. These normal students were willing to torture human beings the same way the Nazis did. During the seventies there were no guidelines on how to treat a prisoner. Social Psychology tells us that in adverse situations normal people will react in chaotic ways. This experiment proved the point but was biased by negative incentives. I fail to see how the results can be accurate. The prisoners were aware that it wasn’t a real prison, but ended up believing what the guards said to be true.

The ethical issues with the prison system can be addressed by setting up guidelines for the guards to adhere to. The guards should have consequences for breaking the rules. The experiment should have had stricter rules for the guards. The study did not contain a control group or an independent variable, which is needed in any experiment. So there was no baseline for comparison to achieve quality results. The biggest problem was the treatment of the prisoner participants. The guards could do what they deemed necessary. The lack human rights for the prisoners was an issue also. They were referred to by a number, like they were no better than prisoners of war. The results of this experiment forced new regulations on study proposals to make certain that they meet the ethical standards set forth by the American Psychological Association. The fact that anyone would torture another human being for $15.00 an hour is beyond any human decency. The prison systems need stricter rules for guard to keep abuse of prisoners from happening. This experiment seemed like a way for Zimbardo to see his sick fantasy played out. It defied the process of the scientific method and went against medical standards also. This reminded me of a mad scientist movie from the seventies. Abuse in the prison system is an issue still today. Zimbardo just showed us a glimpse of the chaos that really happens in prisons. The participants in the experiment were volunteers, I can only imagine the horror of what really happens to prisoners. This study was so influential that it is used in psychology and criminal justice classes. Today this study would have been considered unethical and invalid for research. This was a wakeup call for the fight for fair treatment of prisoners. The students who participated in the experiment were normal people who let Phillip Zimbardo get into their head.

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Stanford Prison Experiment: The Ethical Issues. (2021, September 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
“Stanford Prison Experiment: The Ethical Issues.” Edubirdie, 20 Sept. 2021,
Stanford Prison Experiment: The Ethical Issues. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Sept. 2023].
Stanford Prison Experiment: The Ethical Issues [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 20 [cited 2023 Sept 24]. Available from:
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