Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment started as an experiment that escalated to a severe issue with ethical implications. Two main ethical issues occurred in the experiment. The first one is arresting the participants without consent. Contrary to what the participants signed when applying for participation, the researcher did not give them consent that they would be arrested just like any other wrongdoer. The arrests came as a surprise even though the subjects had signed informed consent forms. It is a breach of ethics when the agreement states something, and the doer does contrary to it. Besides, it was unethical to arrest the subjects, surprisingly, as it could have elicited some other actions while it was just an experiment.

The second ethical issue is about the abuse of the participants. They faced several undeserving cases of abuse, such as being stripped naked, placed in solitary confinement, and sprayed with fire extinguishers (Zimbardo, n.d.). Some even pretended to be freed since they could not stand the abuse. Although the experiment was supposed to depict a real prison scenario, the ‘prisoners’ did not deserve such kind of abuse. Besides, the hypothesis of the experiment was not to test abuse. Furthermore, the issue became more of an ethical issue when the parents and friends of the participants came to visit, and the prison attendants pretended just to depict a clear picture. They acted in a way that they did not act before to paint a clear picture. The experiment going to such an extent of the abuse was unethical.

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Following the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct” from the APA, there are three ethics that might have been violated. The first one is boundaries and competence, which is standard code 2.0. The ethical guidelines state that researchers can only conduct a study if their level of education, supervised experience, and training is competent (APA, 2002). After the experiment, Phil Zimbardo, the experiment’s lead researcher, admitted that he had insufficient knowledge about prisons when conducting the study (Zimbardo, n.d.). It shows that he clearly violated the APA ethics guidelines.

The second violation is about code 3.04 of avoiding or minimizing harm. This guideline requires researchers to try and avoid harm, or when it is unavoidable, minimize it (APA, 2002). However, what transpired in the experiment is the opposite of what the guideline requires. The participants were abused and subjected to trauma that led to more harm. For example, they were stripped naked, exposed to fire extinguishers gas; some were isolated in confinement, mistreated, and tormented by the guards. By this, they increased the students’ chances of suffering from trauma or other emotional disorders, which is harmful.

Lastly, the experiment violated ethical guideline 8.02, which is informed consent. The guideline states that research participants have the right to participate or withdraw from research participation at will (APA, 2002). This means that the subjects had the right to withdraw at any time, even if the experiment had begun. However, the researcher denied them the rights when he told them they could not withdraw once they started participating. Additionally, the violation also occurred when they were arrested surprisingly without informed consent that it would happen in that manner.

Diversity was not taken into consideration in this experiment. Based on the description, participants were selected based on several factors that limit the possibility of diversity inclusion. For example, there were 75 applicants; however, the selected number was 24 in the end (Zimbardo, n.d.). The rest were eliminated based on their psychological ability, medical, drug, and criminal history. The experiment only included students with no psychological problems, disabilities, or crime and drug records. This means that the participants were not diversified because the researcher selected only the ‘perfect’ physically and mentally stable students. Additionally, all of them were men, meaning the researcher was gender-biased. He only selected men, and this could perhaps be that the application was open to men only. Diversity means including both genders, but the experiment included only men.

Lack of diversity would have had research and ethical consequences. Firstly, the research consequences would have caused a hasty generalization of results. For example, the results generalized the results in that it studied prisoners. In the real sense, prisoners constitute both males and females. However, the research only included males but generalized the results into prisoners. It consequently poses an ethical implication of bias and unreliability in the research because it would be unethical to say that prisoners are this or that, while the experiment only involved men. Besides, it only involved physically, and mentally stable men whilst not all prisoners are physically or mentally fit.


If I were the researcher, I would have done two things differently. Firstly, I would have made the study an experiment and not a reality. I would not have made it so severe, because after all, I would not want to paint a negative picture of my study. For example, I would not have allowed the guards to take advantage and torment the prisoners in the manner they did. Research is not meant to be a punishment but rather a test. Secondly, I would have considered diversity inclusion. I would have selected both males and females and included a few people with physical and mental problems. This would have added reliability to the study, and hence, have quality results. Besides, it would have granted diverse populations the privilege or benefits of research.


APA. (2002). Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists. Zimbardo, P. G. (n.d.). Sta