The Stanford prison experiment (SPE) was an experiment designed to examine the power of an institutional environmentprison, in particularto shape and control the behavior of persons placed inside it. Using college student participants who were selected for their normality and randomly assigned to be prisoners or guards, the study ended unexpectedly early because of the dramatic and extreme results. It has assumed a prominent place in debates over the causes of extreme behavior in powerful situations or settings, especially in the criminal justice system.

Study Design and Findings

The SPE was conducted in 1971 by a group of Stanford research psychologists, led by Philip Zimbardo, and his two graduate students, Craig Haney and Curtis Banks. The experiment was designed to control for the individual personality variables (e.g., ...

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