Was the Stanford Prison Study Ethical? Essay

Christopher Campbell 10/02/2012 Psych 320 Was the Stanford Prison Study Ethical? The test aimed to show that the inherent personality traits of prisoners and guards are the chief cause of abusive behavior in prison. Zimbardo and his selected team with funding from the US Office of Naval Research selected twenty-four predominately “healthy” white middle class males for the experiment. The subjects were selected through extensive background and psychological tests excluding those with criminal backgrounds, psychological impairments, and health problems.

The length of the experiment was supposed to be two weeks, but was ended after only six days due to ethical issues. These ethical issues prompted many debates of whether or not the experiment was ethical or not. The question of the whether or not the experiment was ethical, in my opinion the answer is both yes and no. in my observation and reading I believe it is not a question that simply answered. The experiment was unethical, but was not properly executed.

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It should have been a blind study and Zimbardo shouldn’t have been “playing” warden, but should have been watching and observing the individuals and the environment he and his colleagues had created. Zimbardo got caught up “playing” his part, which caused him to lose focus and control of his own experiment and that is what made it an unethical experiment. He did not have a discipline system in place for the guards; he did not have a check or balance system in place for the experiment, in my opinion.

I feel as though this negligence on Zimbardo’s part is the major reason for the question of whether or not his experiment was ethical. I also feel as though Zimbardo needed a mixed pool of subjects, not just “white middle class” college students, in that respect I felt his results were skewed by not having a proper test pool and having random positioning. By not having random positioning it does take away a sense of even ground, but in which prison has there ever been even footing between prisoner and guard?

I believe having preselected roles after the psych evaluations; ergo those with history of bad behaviors are assigned the roll as prisoner and those with good behaviors are assigned to the roll of guard. Also race plays a huge part in prison life. I felt as though he could have gained more by adding in different races to both sides; guards and prisoners. In short, Zimbardo’s experiment didn’t start out an ethical issue until he blurred line between reality and the reality of his own creation.