Stanford Prison Experiment Discussion Questions

Instructor: Laura McNeice

Laura has a masters in Curriculum and Instruction in Social Studies Education and has been teaching for 7 years in North Carolina.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was a famous and unique psychology study designed to examine the psychological side effects of the stress of imprisonment, both from the perspective of the prisoners and the guards.

Stanford Prison Experiment

In 1971, a social psychology experiment funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research was conducted at Stanford University. The study had students fulfilling the role of prisoners and prison guards in a 'fake' prison they constructed in the psychology building at the school. The experiment was designed to measure the effect of role-playing, labeling, and social expectations on behavior throughout the two-week study. The experiment and its findings were cataloged in the novel The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo, the chief researcher of the experiment.

Chapter One

1. What were some of the questions the study was designed to research?

2. Who was the main psychologist who led the experiment?

3. How were people gathered to participate in the study?

4. How did the researchers create the prison? How was it designed to provide the same effect as a real prison?

Chapter Two

5. How were prisoners treated upon arrival at the prison and why?

6. What was the 'uniform' for a prisoner?

7. Why were the prisoners given ID numbers?

8. Explain the role of the prison guard. What training did they receive and why?

9. What was the 'uniform' for a guard?

Chapters Three and Four

10. How did the prison guards assert their authority? What punishments did they use?

11. How did the prisoners assert their independence?

12. How did guards use 'special privileges' to retaliate against the prisoners?

Chapters Five, Six, and Seven

13. Why was Prisoner #8162 released?

14. What was the reaction of family members who came to visit the 'prison'?

Chapters Eight and Nine

15. What did Gordon Bower ask Zimbardo which angers him, and what does Zimbardo then realize?

16. What were the three types of guards which emerged during the experiment?

17. Why did the experimenters hold an encounter session after the experiment was over?

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