Stamford Prison Experiment

What police procedures are used during arrests, and how do these procedures lead people to feel confused, fearful, and dehumanized?

The police used the art of surprise coupled with a lack of information during arrests. The shock of the abruptness of the arrests, public embarrassment, as well as being arrested at random times (especially in broad daylight) could all be labeled as contributing factors that would lead the people to feel confused, fearful and dehumanized.

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The behavior of the “prison staff” (informing the prisoners of their “serious offenses” and showering them to remove their germs and lice) could certainly without a doubt cause the detainees to feel embarrassed and confused. Not only would this be degrading for them, it would also serve as a catalyst for psychological change. It would be at this time that the new inmates begin to really feel as though they have done something to deserve this kind of treatment. The prison attire the inmates had to wear was also part of this psychological catalyst. It probably left the inmates feeling very anonymous and inhuman.

If you were a guard, what type of guard would you have become? How sure are you?

If I were a guard I am sure that I would have been as nice as possible to the inmates. I would have done this so that I would have garnered their respect in order to avoid any conflict.

What prevented “good guards” from objecting or countermanding the orders from tough or bad guards?

I feel that not wanting to feel alienated or be blamed for creating a sense of derision between the “bad guards” was what kept the good guards from objecting to their actions. Because of their desire to want to feel unified with the other guards they never spoke out about their actions for fear of possibly being treated like the prisoners.

If you were a prisoner, would you have been able to endure the experience? What would you have done differently than those subjects did? If you were imprisoned in a “real” prison for five years or more, could you take it?

I do not think I would have been able to handle being in the experimental prison, or a real one. I would have kept more to myself in the experimental prison and not formed any ties with any of the other prisoners. I would have been more self-reliant and compliant with the demands of the guards. As for the real prison, due to the emotional and psychological impact it would have on me, I don’t think I would survive five years. I would most likely attempt suicide if anything.

Why did our prisoners try to work within the arbitrary prison system to effect a change in it (e. g. , setting up a Grievance Committee), rather than trying to dismantle or change the system through outside help?

I think the prisoners did this with the hopes of establishing some form of alliance and cooperation from the prison staff. I think that they feel that if they could do this from an early stage, things would be easier for them. They knew that trying to reform the prison system with outside influences would only be viewed as a threat by the prison staff.

What factors would lead prisoners to attribute guard brutality to the guards’ disposition or character, rather than to the situation?

The initial humiliation coupled with the ongoing abuse would cause the prisoners to act like this. Due to the slight alterations made in the prisoners thinking, they would no longer think rationally; their surroundings would no longer be a “blame factor”. Instead, they would attack those who are doing nothing to extenuate the current circumstances and are only adding to the prisoner’s stress.

What is “reality” in a prison setting? This study is one in which an illusion of imprisonment was created, but when do illusions become real? Contrast consensual reality and physical or biological reality, and explain the implications of the following poem (by PGZ):

Within the illusion of life, Death is the only reality, but is Reality the only death? Within the reality of imprisonment, Illusion is the only freedom, but is Freedom the only illusion?

The illusions began to come to life from the moment the inmates were being deloused and dressed in their uniforms. All of the events that led up to their imprisonment conditioned them psychologically. Also, the daily counts and ankle bracelets helped to further reinforce this. Like the narrator said, whenever they would adjust themselves in their sleep, the padlock of the ankle bracelet would hit their other foot and wake them, reminding them of where they were. This combined with being jolted out of sleep to be “counted” would have a severe impact on ones subconscious.

What reality is ‘supposed’ to be to the inmates is held up in comparison to what is actually going on in their environment. As for the implications in the poem, the author is stating that within life, it is safe to say that generally speaking, death is the only certainty that we have. But for some, realization of the reality of life would mean death for them. Applying this rationale to this prison setting, the same questions are presented: in prison, is any illusion a form of freedom for the inmates, or is freedom in general an illusion for them.

What is identity? Is there a core to your self-identity independent of how others define you? How difficult would it be to remake any given person into someone with a new identity?

Identity is anything that can provide us with a way of answering what we are. I believe that there is a core basis of self-identity that is unaffected by how others define you. “Remaking” a person would only be difficult if you did not have the right psychological tools to deconstruct their current thinking and reconditioning to believe, think, and operate in a completely different manner. Without these tools it would be close to impossible to do this.

Do you think that kids from an urban working class environment would have broken down emotionally in the same way as did our middle-class prisoners? Why? What about women?

I do not think that kids from an urban setting would have broken down emotionally in the same manner because I feel that they would be more accustomed to this type of treatment due to the environments they grow up in. Most inner city kids are more emotionally hardy than suburban kids and are also more independent and resourceful because many of them have had to fend for themselves at an early age. As for women, I feel that because of the natural ability they have of overcoming challenges, especially emotional ones, they would have less of a tendency to emotionally break down.

If you were the experimenter in charge, would you have done this study? Would you have terminated it earlier? Would you have conducted a follow-up study?

I would have done the study, but once I had begun to see the emotional and psychological breakdowns of the men in the prison, I would have terminated it. I would have definitely conducted a follow-up study to survey the effects of the study on their mental states.

How can we change our real institutions, such as Attica Prison, when they are designed to resist critical evaluation and operate in relative secrecy from taxpayers and legislators?

We can change our real institutions by getting more involved, and persuading the people who run prisons like this to change their structure in order to treat their inmates in a much more humane manner. As we can see from the study, when inmates, or people for that matter, are treated inhumanely, they become somewhat emotionless. That, in my opinion, is the perfect “breeding ground” for serial killers and criminal masterminds.

Knowing what this research says about the power of prison situations to have a corrosive effect on human nature, what recommendations would you make about changing the correctional system in your country?

I would appeal to state legislators about making sure that the inmates are treated humanely and fairly. I would also ask legislators to follow up on the prison’s operational protocol to make sure that it entails some form of reasonable treatment for the inmates. I would repeal the death penalty and opt for interminable life sentences to be passed instead.

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Stamford Prison Experiment. (2019, May 02). Retrieved from