Perspectives and Theories in Psychology

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Perspectives and Theories in Psychology

Kaplan University

PS124 – Unit 5 Assignment

The Stanford Prison experiment was a study done in 1971 by psychologist Philip Zimbardo. The idea was to set up a fake prison they had 24 volunteers that were picked at random to be either a prisoner or a prison guard. The prisoner would be there 24 hours a day and the guards would work 8 hour shifts and go home to their normal life. This experiment was supposed to run two weeks but was stopped after only 6 days because the guards had started being abusive treating the prisoners in very dehumanizing ways as well as being hostile. In reaction to the situation the prisoners were getting depressed and showing signs of stress. In fact five of the prisoners had to leave the study early due to their emotional state.

Zimbardo himself was acting as the prison warden had even overlooked the abuse that the guards had shown towards the prisoners. A majority of the people involved including the researchers seemed to have forgotten what they were really there for.

This experiment showed that when put in a position of power the individuals that were chose to be the guards abused that power and behaved in ways they would not have done in their normal life. The prisoners being in an environment where they were no longer in control of their life became depressed and unresponsive. This study shows that a situation such as this plays a really powerful role in human behavior. (Kendra, Cherry 2011).

Psychologist describe consciousness as our awareness of ourselves and our environment. This awareness let us collect information from many sources as we consider our past and think about the future. It keeps our focus as we learn a complicated concept or behavior. (David, G. Myers, 2014). I think this did have an impact on the behavior of the subjects involved in this experiment. The prisoners were probably not in a state of mind that would let them think clearly or have totally rational thoughts.

I believe this study shows that this form of treatment could cause some psychological disorders such as

Post- traumatic stress disorder. PTSD often will develop after a terrifying ordeal that involved being hurt or threatened to be hurt. You do not have to be harmed to get PTSD, it can happen after you witness others being harmed or threatened. PTSD is a disorder that an individual gets when they have been through a traumatic event and then has nightmares and memories that will not go away and sometimes other symptoms as well. Considering what the prisoners went through and possibly even some of the guards there would be a really good chance that some of the subjects involved in this experiment will develop some psychological disorder.(National Institute of Health, 2009).

I think the social cognitive theory was the influence for the Stanford Prison Experiment because this theory is based on the idea that behavior is influenced by social context as well as traits, including their thinking. Social Cognitive Psychologists study how individuals interact with situations. To predict behavior sometimes they will observe behavior in real situations. (David G. Myers, 2014).The study itself shows that individuals put in certain situations will react a specific way, and it seems to be that the guards at least the majority of them all reacted the same way when put in a position of authority. The prisoners all in a very short period of time conformed to be just as they were expected to be because of the treatment they were receiving. These people were abused in many ways verbally, physically, and as much as I can understand it they were degraded severely, and I feel that was probably harder emotionally than the physical abuse. I also think the guards are not totally to blame for their behavior given the fact that even the researchers were overlooking the abuse. If you could put the prisoners in as guards and the guards as the prisoners it would have ended the same way because when you put several people in a situation like this especially the guards, they were in a position of authority, they are going to abuse it. I think this is what is happening in our prisons every day.


Cherry, Kendra. (2011). The Experiment. About Education Retrieved from[eriment.htm.

National Institute of Health. (2009).” PTSD A Growing epidemic”. Volume 4-1 p 10-14. Retrieved from

Myers,D.G. (2014). Exploring psychology with updates on DSM-5. 9th Edition. [Vitalsource bookshelf Version]. Retrieved from

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