The Stanford Prison Experiment: Social Roles and Norms on Behavior

Marketing Dept., | 7 min read
Marketing Dept., | 7 min read

The Stanford Prison Experiment is one of the most famous and controversial studies in the field of psychology. Conducted in 1971 by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, this experiment explored the impact of social roles and norms on human behavior. In this blog post, we will delve into the key aspects of the Stanford Prison Experiment, its findings, and discuss how JoVE.com can help you further understand this significant psychological study.

What is the Stanford Prison Experiment?

The Stanford Prison Experiment aimed to investigate how individuals conform to roles of authority and subordination within a simulated prison environment. Volunteers were randomly assigned to play the roles of either guards or prisoners in a mock prison set up in the basement of Stanford University’s psychology building. The study was originally planned to last two weeks but was terminated after only six days due to the extreme and unexpected behaviors exhibited by participants.

Key Findings of the Stanford Prison Experiment

These are top 4 findings of the Stanford Prison Experiment:

  1. Role Conformity: Participants quickly adapted to their assigned roles beyond expectations. Guards became authoritarian and abusive, while prisoners became passive and submissive.
  2. Loss of Identity: Both guards and prisoners experienced deindividuation, a psychological state where individuals lose their sense of personal identity and self-awareness, leading to behavior that is atypical for them.
  3. Power of Situational Factors: The experiment demonstrated that situational factors and social environments could significantly influence behavior, sometimes more than individual personality traits.
  4. Ethical Concerns: The extreme psychological stress experienced by participants raised serious ethical questions about the treatment of subjects in psychological research.

Practical Implications of the Experiment

Understanding Authority: The experiment offers insights into how authority figures can abuse power, which is applicable in various real-world contexts such as military, law enforcement, and organizational settings.

Prison System Reform: The findings highlighted the potential for abuse within prison systems, contributing to discussions on prison reform and the treatment of inmates.

Workplace Dynamics: Understanding how roles and norms influence behavior can help improve workplace environments by fostering positive leadership and mitigating the effects of power dynamics.

How JoVE.com Helps in Studying the Stanford Prison Experiment

JoVE.com offers a range of resources that make learning about the Stanford Prison Experiment engaging and accessible. Here’s how JoVE can support your understanding:

  1. Visual Learning: JoVE’s high-quality videos provide a visual reconstruction of the experiment, making it easier to grasp the complex psychological dynamics at play.
  2. Interactive Content: Engage with interactive elements within JoVE videos to reinforce learning and ensure a comprehensive understanding of the experiment's implications.
  3. Expert Insights: Learn from experienced researchers and educators who explain the principles and ethical considerations of the experiment in detail.
  4. Supplemental Materials: Access quizzes, articles, and protocols that complement the video content, offering a well-rounded educational experience.


The Stanford Prison Experiment remains a pivotal study in understanding the power of social roles and norms on human behavior. Its findings continue to influence various fields, from psychology to organizational behavior. Utilizing resources like JoVE.com can significantly enhance your knowledge, providing clear, visual explanations and practical insights into this landmark study. Explore JoVE’s extensive content to deepen your understanding and excel in your studies of psychological experiments.

Discover more about the Stanford Prison Experiment at JoVE.com.

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