The Stanford Prison Experiment is an upcoming movie based on the infamous 1971 psychology experiment known by the same name. A small group of college students were recruited by Stanford professor Dr Philip Zimbardo to participate in a study that aimed to investigate the reasons for conflict between prison guards and prisoners. It’s infamous because it performed, shall we say, beyond expectations.
In case you’re not familiar with the study, here’s a brief summary (via Wikipedia):
Twenty-four male students were selected, from an initial pool of seventy-five, to adopt randomly assigned roles of prisoner and guard, in a mock prison, situated in the basement of the Stanford Psychology Department building, for a period of between seven and fourteen days.
The participants adapted to their roles well beyond Zimbardo’s expectations, as the guards enforced authoritarian measures and ultimately subjected some of the prisoners to psychological torture. Many of the prisoners passively accepted psychological abuse and, at the request of the guards, readily harassed other prisoners who attempted to prevent it.
The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his role as the superintendent, permitted the abuse to continue. Two of the prisoners quit the experiment early, and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days, to an extent because of the objections of Christina Maslach. Certain portions of the experiment were filmed, and excerpts of footage are publicly available.
That looks… very intense. The way the guards and the prisoners, and eventually even the researchers, play-act their roles in the beginning while slowly devolving over the course of, what we must all remember is only a few days, to almost inhabit those roles in truth is fascinating; and judging from the trailer should make for riveting viewing. I wonder if they’ve applied anything they learnt from the experiment to studying police/civilian interactions.
The Stanford Prison Experiment releases in the US on 17 July and stars Billy Crudup, Olivia Thirlby, Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, and many others.
Last Updated: June 15, 2015