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Psychological Analysis of Human Nature Through The Stanford Prison Experiment

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There were many academic experiments performed to try and get an understanding of human nature. The way humans act, and what they do is a very strange thing. Human nature really refers to the patterns of behavior that are typical of our species or our kind. A human undergoes changes as all humans grow up. The environment someone grows up in effects that person’s nature. To further understand human nature I am going to talk about a certain experiment called, “The Stanford Prison Experiment” led by psychology major Philip Zimbardo, which is a well-known social psychology experiment that investigates the psychological effects of power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison guards.

Zimbardo was interested in finding out whether the brutality reported among guards in American prisons was due to the prison environment or the cruel personalities of the prison guards. For example, on October 20, 2016 at Clinton Correctional Facility, “Strickland, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, appears dazed and unresponsive, and then he collapses. Even after he is contained, handcuffed and surrounded by officers, they make no effort to assess his medical situation…..Strickland died after being struck on the head. State investigators issued a scathing report about the incident, but no officers were disciplined or charged.” Even though this event occurs much later than the experiment was conducted, it shows a lack of urgency and care for the well-being of the prisoner. It almost like the guards want the prisoner to suffer. Some prisoners and guards may have different personalities which make conflict with prisoners inevitable. And some prisoners may be lacking respect for law and order, and guards being power hungry and aggressive. Hostility is invisible due to the rigid power structure of the social environment in prisons. Zimbardo predicted that the position made them that way rather than their disposition.

Zimbardo put out an ad asking for volunteers to participate in the study. Out of the 75 applicants, 24 men judged to be the most physically & mentally stable and were chosen to participate. When the men were brought to the “prison” at Stanford they were stripped naked, and were given prison clothes and bedding. They were given an ID number and were to only be referred to by that number, the use of the ID number was a way to make the prisoners feel anonymous. In the first hours of the experiment some guards began to harass the prisoners. At 2:30 A.M. the guards awoke the prisoners with blasting whistles for the first of many “counts.” Push-ups were a common form of physical punishment given by the guards. Guards would even step on or even sit on the prisoners backs while they force them to do push-ups.

By the second day of the experiment, the prisoners had already rebelled by removing their stocking caps, ripped off their numbers, and barricaded themselves inside the cells. Within the first 36 hours into the experiment, Prisoner #8612 began suffering from acute emotional distress, uncontrollable crying, and rage. The prisoner met with the guards where he told them that he was weak, #8612 returned to the other prisoners when the guards said, “You can’t leave. You can’t quit.” Soon after #8612 began to act crazy, yelling and screaming. It wasn’t until this point that the psychologists realized they had to let him out. The next day was a visiting day for friends and family. When they saw the state of the jail, they began to grow very worried and some insisted on taking their sons home. After the visit, rumors spread of a mass escape plan. The guards were afraid to lose their prisoners so they tried to enlist the help and facilities of the Palo Alto police department. The guards again escalated the level of harassment, forcing them to clean toilets with their bare hands.

Zimbardo invited a Catholic priest to evaluate our prison situation. Half of the prisoners introduced themselves by their number rather than their name.

The chaplain interviewed each prisoner individually one by one. Eventually while talking to the priest, #819 broke down and began to cry hysterically, just like the two previous prisoners had. The psychologists removed the chain from his foot, the cap off his head, and told him to go and rest in a room that was next to the prison yard. They assured him that they would get him some food and get him to see a doctor. While this was going on, one of the guards lined up the other prisoners and had them chant aloud:

‘Prisoner #819 is a bad prisoner. Because of what Prisoner #819 did, my cell is a mess, Mr. Correctional Officer.’

The psychologists realized #819 could hear what they were chanting and went in to find the prisoner crying uncontrollably. They tried to get him to leave the experiment, but he said he could not leave because the others had labeled him a bad prisoner. At that point, Zimbardo said, ‘Listen, you are not #819. You are [his name], and my name is Dr. Zimbardo. I am a psychologist, not a prison superintendent, and this is not a real prison. This is just an experiment, and those are students, not prisoners, just like you. Let’s go.’ He stopped crying suddenly, looked up and replied, ‘Okay, let’s go“, as if nothing had been wrong.

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Psychological Analysis of Human Nature Through the Stanford Prison Experiment. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 2, 2022, from
“Psychological Analysis of Human Nature Through the Stanford Prison Experiment.” GradesFixer, 01 Sept. 2020,
Psychological Analysis of Human Nature Through the Stanford Prison Experiment. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 2 Jul. 2022].
Psychological Analysis of Human Nature Through the Stanford Prison Experiment [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Sept 01 [cited 2022 Jul 2]. Available from:
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