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Stanford Prison Experiment

Philip G. Zimbardo

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Philip Zimbardo was born on March 23, 1933 in New York City. He attended Brooklyn College where he earned a B.A. in 1954, triple majoring in psychology, sociology and anthropology. He then went on to earn his M.A. in 1955 and his Ph.D. in 1959 from Yale University, both in psychology.

He taught briefly at Yale before becoming a psychology professor at New York University, where he taught until 1967. After a year of teaching at Columbia University, he became a faculty member at Stanford University in 1968.

Philip Zimbardo is perhaps best known for the Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted in the basement of the Stanford University psychology department in 1971. The participants in the study were 24 male college students who were randomly assigned to act either as "guards" or "prisoners" in the mock prison.

The study was initially slated to last two weeks, but had to be terminated after just six days because of the extreme reactions and behaviors of the participants. The guards began displaying cruel and sadistic behavior toward the prisoners, while the prisoners became depressed and hopeless.

Since the famous prison experiment, Zimbardo has continued to conduct research on a variety of topics including shyness, cult behavior and heroism. He has a authored and co-authored numerous books, including some that are widely used in university level psychology courses. Some people may recognize him as the host of the Discovering Psychology video series, which has aired on PBS and is often used in high school and college psychology classes. In 2002, Zimbardo was elected president of the American Psychological Association. After more than 50 years of teaching, Zimbardo retired from Stanford in 2003 but gave his last "Exploring Human Nature" lecture on March 7, 2007.

Today, he continues to work as the director of the organization he founded called the Heroic Imagination Project. The organization promotes research, education and media initiatives designed to inspire ordinary people to act as heroes and agents of social change.