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Stanford Prison Experiment

The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) is one of the best known psychology studies of all time, both for its dramatic demonstration that ordinary people have the capacity to impose serious harm on their fellows and also for its simple and striking explanation of this phenomenon: Human beings cannot help but succumb to the demands associated with the roles into which they are thrust.

The study is not only a staple in every introductory psychology textbook, it has transcended disciplinary boundaries and is regularly cited across the humanities and social sciences—most famously, perhaps, in Christopher Browning’s acclaimed historical study of a Nazi killing squad Ordinary Men. But more than that, the SPE has permeated from the academic world into popular culture. In particular, it has been ...

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