Here, in their own words, some of the key players in the drama reflect on their roles and how those six days in August changed their lives.
THE SUPERINTENDENT Phil Zimbardo The study was focused originally on how individuals adapt to being in a relatively powerless situation.
I started consciously doing things to minimize the negative use of power in the classroom. During the first few days of the experiment, I did hear from Phil, but not in great detail.
What I was getting, though, was a sense that it was becoming a real prison—people were not just fooling around but actually getting caught up in the situation.
Nothing's happening." The guards had this antiauthority mentality. They didn't get into the guard mentality until the prisoners started to revolt.
Throughout the experiment, there was this conspiracy of denial—everyone involved was in effect denying that this was an experiment and agreeing that this is a prison run by psychologists. We had to feed the prisoners three meals a day, deal with the prisoner breakdowns, deal with their parents, run a parole board. I had become the superintendent of the Stanford county jail. Even my posture changes—when I walk through the prison yard, I'm walking with my hands behind my back, which I never in my life do, the way generals walk when they're inspecting troops.
We expected that we would write some articles about it and move on.
After the end of the first day, I said, "There's nothing here.
For six days, half the study's participants endured cruel and dehumanizing abuse at the hands of their peers.It also provoked criticism from other researchers, who questioned the ethics of subjecting student volunteers to such extreme emotional trauma.The study had been approved by Stanford's Human Subjects Research Committee, and Zimbardo says that "neither they nor we could have imagined" that the guards would treat the prisoners so inhumanely.How can you see what I saw and not care about the suffering? Three weeks after that, there's the Attica prison riot [in New York]. Two government investigative committees start hearings and I'm flown out to Washington to present to a congressional subcommittee on the nature of prisons.I went from knowing nothing firsthand about prisons to being an expert. I visited a number of correctional facilities all over the country.He made clear that prisoners could not be physically harmed, but said the guards should try to create an atmosphere in which the prisoners felt "powerless." The study began on Sunday, August 17, 1971.