About the Stanford Prison Experiment

Carried out August 15-21, 1971 in the basement of Jordan Hall, the Stanford Prison Experiment set out to examine the psychological effects of authority and powerlessness in a prison environment. The study, led by psychology professor Philip G. Zimbardo, recruited Stanford students using a local newspaper ad. Twenty-four students were carefully screened and randomly assigned into groups of prisoners and guards. The experiment, which was scheduled to last 1-2 weeks, ultimately had to be terminated on only the 6th day as the experiment escalated out of hand when the prisoners were forced to endure cruel and dehumanizing abuse at the hands of their peers. The experiment showed, in Dr. Zimbardo’s words, how “ordinary college students could do terrible things.”

This exhibit includes documentation of the experiment, including images and audiovisual recordings, that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

Samples from the Collection