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Haney, Banks, Zimbardo (1973) - Conformity, SIT

Experiment: A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison - page 46 Oxford Revision Book
Aim: To demonstrate the situational rather than the dispositional causes of negative behaviour and throught patterns found in prison settings by conducting a prison stimulation with ‘normal’ subjects playing the roles of guard and prisoner.
Method: Subjects - 22 male subjects selected (through personality assessment). Mostly Caucasian, middle class, college students
Apparatus - Prison, basement corridor in Stanford University Psychology department, in each prisoner room included covert video and audiotape data recording. Uniforms - role of identification, guards given khaki shirts and trousers, batons and reflecting sunglasses while prisoners wore loose fitting smocks and ID numbers.
Procedure:Observation through covert video and audiotape data recording. Prisoners were arrested by real police outside their houses by surprise under the norm procedures and the guards worked 8 hour shifts and were only given the instructions to ‘maintain a reasonable degree of order within the prison necessary for its effective functioning and a prohibition against the use of physical violence.
Findings: Prisoners showed signs of depression, crying, fits of rage and acute anxiety. The experimenters proposed that these reactions were caused by a loss of personal identity, emasculation, dependency and learned helplessness due to the structures of the prison system.
Guards showed ‘Pathology of Power’ - the huge enjoyment of the power at their disposal.
Conclusion: They conformed to their roles or were into their roles too much due to the situation and not the dispositional factors (like their own personalities)
Ethical: It was unethical as the participants were both mentally and physically hurt.


  • There is lack of ecological validity as simulation lacks ‘mundane realism’.
  • Ethical guidelines breached: Caused dramatic and disturbing results, such as physical and mental harm
  • Subjects were only debriefed months to years after the experiment
  • There was conformed consent but not enough information
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