335 Update/Critique Stanford Prison Study

Research by Reicher, Stephen D., & Haslam, S. Alexander. (2006). Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973).

Update by Bethany Wellman, M.S.

A previous PSM (#48) reviewed Dr. Philip Zimbardo’s 1973 famous Stanford Prison Study. In all sciences, studies are repeated to verify findings.

Zimbardo’s study created a mock prison, assigning 24 male students either to the role of prisoner or prison guard to learn how people interact.  Due to hostile and abusive behaviors by the guards toward the prisoners who became anxious, depressed and hopeless, the study was stopped in 6 days, not 2 weeks as designed. The researchers were surprised how quickly these new behaviors and identities emerged.

New information drastically changed the conclusions.  A 2006 UK study attempted to replicate aspects of the experiment but did not find similar results.  These researchers revised theories on unequal power relationships opposed to Zimbardo’s. A recent Journalist, retrospectively interviewed participants, concluding the experiment was manipulated differently from what was reported, thus did not have authentic results.  Digitized tapes reveal experimenters (the “Wardens”) modeled and encouraged aggression from the prison guards. Some prisoners reported acting the “role of a victim of abuse” versus responding naturally.

Psychology, like all science, is self-correcting. Psychological scientists strive to find inaccuracies in others’ studies and theories. They strive for the truth.


Blum, B. (2018, June 7). The Lifespan of a Lie. In Medium. Retrieved August 15, 2018, from https://medium.com/s/trustissues/the-lifespan-of-a-lie-d869212b1f62

Haslam, S. Alexander, Reicher,  Stephen, & Van Bavel, Jay. (2018). Rethinking the ‘nature’ brutality: Uncovering the role of identity leadership in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Haney, C., Banks, W. C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison. International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, 69-97.

Reicher, Stephen, Haslam, S. Alexander and Bavel, Jay Van. (2018). Time to change the story.


Reicher, S. D., & Haslam, S. A. (2006). Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC prison study. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 1–41

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