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Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment

American Psychologist, vol. 74, no. 7, pp.823-839

The Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) is one of psychology’s most famous studies. It has been criticized on many grounds, and yet a majority of textbook authors have ignored these criticisms in their discussions of the SPE, thereby misleading both students and the general public about the study’s questionable scientific validity. Data collected from a thorough investigation of the SPE archives and interviews with 15 of the participants in the experiment further question the study’s scientific merit. These data are not only supportive of previous criticisms of the SPE, such as the presence of demand characteristics, but provide new criticisms of the SPE based on heretofore unknown information. These new criticisms include the biased and incomplete collection of data, the extent to which the SPE drew on a prison experiment devised and conducted by students in one of Zimbardo’s classes 3 months earlier, the fact that the guards received precise instructions regarding the treatment of the prisoners, the fact that the guards were not told they were subjects, and the fact that participants were almost never completely immersed by the situation. Possible explanations of the inaccurate textbook portrayal and general misperception of the SPE’s scientific validity over the past 5 decades, in spite of its flaws and shortcomings, are discussed.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/amp0000401

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Histoire d’un mensonge : enquête sur l’expérience de Stanford

La Découverte, « Zones », avril 2018

Conduite en 1971 par le professeur Philip Zimbardo, l’« expérience de Stanford sur la prison » a vu vingt-deux étudiants volontaires jouer les rôles de gardiens et de prisonniers au sein d’une fausse prison installée dans l’université Stanford.
L’expérience devait durer deux semaines mais elle fut arrêtée au bout de six jours, résume Zimbardo, car « les gardiens se montrèrent brutaux et souvent sadiques et les prisonniers, après une tentative de rébellion, dociles et accommodants, même si la moitié d’entre eux furent si perturbés psychologiquement qu’ils durent être libérés plus tôt que prévu ».
Devenue presque aussi célèbre que l’expérience de Stanley Milgram sur l’obéissance et souvent citée en exemple de l’influence des situations sur nos comportements, l’expérience de Stanford est pourtant plus proche du cinéma que de la science : ses conclusions ont été écrites à l’avance, son protocole n’avait rien de scientifique, son déroulement a été constamment manipulé et ses résultats ont été interprétés de manière biaisée.




History of a Lie : Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment
In 1971, the famous Stanford Prison Experiment aimed to show that normal people could behave in pathological ways, becoming hostile and sadistic, under the influence of their environment. Based on a thorough investigation in the archives of the experiment and on interviews with about half the people who participated in it, this book shows that the Stanford experiment is closer to cinema than science. In particular, it provides strong and numerous evidences that :

  1. The SPE was modeled after a student experiment : The Toyon Hall experiment.
  2. The guards knew what results were expected from them.
  3. The guards were trained and supervised by the experimenters.
  4. The guards were following a schedule and a set of rules written by the experimenters.
  5. The experimenters deceived the guards and made them believe they were not subjects.
  6. The participants responded to demand characteristics.
  7. The prisoners were conditioned by the experimenters.
  8. The prisoners were not allowed to leave the experiment at will.
  9. The mock prison situation was unrealistic and most participants did not forget they were participating in an experiment.
  10. The data was not collected properly.
  11. The experiment was inaccurately reported.
  12. The conclusions were pre-written according to non-academic aims.


(JPG) .




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