The Stanford Prison Experiment

Blog By: Melanie Sheaffer

This blog post is about which experiment from Philip Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram is the most unethical. These two psychologists conducted their own experiments on other people to find out how individual behaviors and actions change from a variety of different situations. More specifically, Zimbardo observed how power affects the morals of normal individuals while Milgram tried to understand why people were obedient in certain situations even though they violated the morals they withheld since childhood. I learned from watching the Zimbardo Talk that people are drawn to evil and when put in a situation, some individuals do evil things. I find this to be very true because if you look at the world today many people want to have power and the thing is that when they do get that power, the evil kicks in causing them to say and do things that wouldn’t normally

do. I related this to both experiments very well because both deal with power and how people react to those situations of being overpowered.

Zimbardo’s Background:

I found that Philip Zimbardo was the most interesting out of the two experiments I researched. For this experiment, he asked college students if they wanted to participate in a psychology study for two weeks and payed them $15. Zimbardo settled in accepting only 24 out of the 75 college students for the participation of the Prison Study.The first day of the experiment, real policeman arrested each of the selected men in their own homes or places of business. Furthermore, they were taken to a building in which the experiment would take place and was constructed to look like an actual jail. Each of the selected participants were randomly assigned roles to be either the guards or the prisoners. Guards were given uniforms and dark glasses that made their eyes not visible to others; Zimbardo wanted the guards to seem intimidating to the other participants. Those who were picked to be prisoners were stripped and given their own uniforms similar to the ones in a real prison. Those who were picked to be prisoners were put in groups of 3 in small cells. The entire basement had barred doors, windows, and walls; Zimbardo made the Stanford University’s basement look like an actual jail. If you would like to hear more about this experiment, this website has a lot of interesting information: Social Psychology.

Milgram’s Background:

Stanley Milgram also conducted an experiment to observe if people obey and do certain things they’re told. He related this experiment to World War 2 because so many people listened and obeyed Hitler’s orders even when they didn’t want to do it. Milgram created an experiment with one participant and an electric shock machine. The participant would ask another “participant” (that was actually one of Milgram’s partners) a series of questions. If Milgram’s partner didn’t get the question correct, the participant had to shock them receiving more painful volts after every incorrect answer. Even though the participant thought they were shocking or even killing another person, no harm was done in this experiment. Milgram told the participants that it was very important for them to continue with the experiment, so many of them pushed themselves to keep asking questions and “shocking” the other person. To learn more of the backstory behind this experiment, you can visit Explore. Milgram.


After the first few days of the experiment, the participants already started to have mental breakdowns. Zimbardo was part of this experiment himself playing the role of a guard. He observed that most of the prisoners were struggling to continue with this experiment because of the guards. The guards had abused them, forced them to do things that were uncomfortable, and made rude and inappropriate insults towards them. Zimbardo saw and knew what was happening but he wouldn’t end the experiment or take any actions into stopping the problems. Because he didn’t do anything to stop this he violated code 3.04: Avoiding Harm; the prisoners were harmed both emotionally and physically. During the Milgram experiment, no harm was done to anyone who was part of the experiment, no shocks were given to any of the participants.

The experiment was unpredictable, Zimbardo had no idea what would happen. After the first fews days of the experiment, prisoners started having panic attacks, breakdowns, and other mental problems. Not only were the prisoners involved, but the guards too. The guards became more violent than usual, they abused the prisoners both physically and mentally. Zimbardo didn’t take any action into stopping the problems and was also influenced in the experiment as a guard. Because Zimbardo didn’t try to stop the problem, he violated code 2.01e: Boundaries of Competence. In Milgram’s experiment, no problems occurred; no one was harmed and it was well planned out.

The prisoners were all scared and emotionally scarred from what they have experienced after the first few days. Nobody told them they had the right to leave whenever they wanted to,

because of this they violated code 8.02a: Informed Consent to Research. Zimbardo said that the participants can leave whenever they want but he didn’t make it clear to them or actually tell them they could. The prisoners felt trapped and perceived the experiment to be real and thought they were not allowed to leave. Although participants in Milgram’s experiment were told to continue with the experiment when they didn’t want to, they had the choice to stop when they could no longer keep going. In both of these experiments no participants were actually told they could leave or quit, but the prisoner’s in Zimbardo’s experiment had far many more problems than Milgram’s; the students perceived the experiment to be real and convinced themselves there was no way they could actually leave. This concludes that Philip Zimbardo’s experiment was more unethical than Stanley Milgram’s.

Other codes that had been violated during the Zimbardo experiment include the following:


Boundaries of Competence

Nobody brought to the attention that the experiment was an issue and had abuse in it


Other Harassment

The prisoners were beaten, called rude names, and were forced to do uncomfortable tasks such as cleaning toilets with their bare hands


Avoiding Harm

Many of the prisoners were harmed physically and emotionally


Conflict of Interest

Zimbardo took on two jobs, as a psychologist and a prison support intendent which impaired his job to protect participants from any harm

8.05 a,b

Dispensing with informed consent to research

The reputation of participants were put at risk because they were arrested on their own homes which is an invasion of privacy.


“Zimbardo — Stanford Prison Experiment | Simply Psychology.” Zimbardo — Stanford Prison Experiment | Simply Psychology. N.p., n.d. Web. 23

“Milgram Experiment- Obedience to Authority.” Explorable. N.p., 23 Dec. 2015. Web.

“The Milgram Obedience Experiment The Game of Death.” The Game of Death Milgrams Obedience Experiments French Reality TV Show. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

Banks, Haney C. “Zimbardo — Stanford Prison Experiment.”SimplyPsychology. Naval Research Review, n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

Ratnesar, Romesh. “The Menace Within.” Stanford Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

Konnikova, Mariah. “The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment — The New Yorker.” The New Yorker. N.p., 12 June 2015. Web. 23 Dec. 2015.

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