Why Ordinary People Do Evil

The Stanford prison experiment was designed to study the psychological effects of being either a prisoner or prison guard.  The 1971 experiment was conducted by a team of researchers led by Psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University.  Twenty-four students were selected to play the roles of both guards and prisoners.  They were to live in a mock prison created in the basement of the psychology building.  Their roles were assigned randomly.  The students adapted to their roles well beyond what was expected, leading the guards to display authoritarian and even draconian measures.  The experiment was scheduled to run for 2 weeks but was abruptly stopped after only six days.

“It became clear that we had to end the study.  We had created an overwhelmingly powerful situation — a situation in which prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically.”

Stanford Prison Experiment web site

Phillip Zimbardo’s web site


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