In 1971, psychology professor Philip Zimbardo conducted an experiment that involved college students and the prison system. Zimbardo got together a group of young men who volunteered to be involved for money and broke them up into “guards” and “prisoners” in a mock prison, which took place in the Stanford University. While the experiment was meant to last fourteen days, it only lasted six days. The experiment was regarded as controversial due to the abuse that the mock guards would bestow upon the fake prisoners.
In 2015, there was a film that came out about the experiment. While most of what happens in the film may seem to suspend belief, much of what was portrayed really played out that way in real life. The experiment was meant as an observation of how people would react to being put in either positions of authority and those who had their rights ripped away.
Did It Really Happen This Way?
At first, you behave like the prisoners did: this isn’t real. They’re in a mock prison in a school. It’s all fake. But, as the prisoners, and us; find out, the “guards” are willing to take this experiment to an extreme level. It gets to the point where the prisoners are broken, numb, and shells of themselves. All the while those who are behaving as guards start believing that the other students are prisoners. You have to wonder how much of this was an act and how much of it was internalized behavior.
Could You Handle The Experiment?
There were times that I found myself saying “why is everyone acting as if they’re real prisoners? It’s just an experiment”. But, things started going too far and it was no wonder that most of them felt so depressed at the end. Why did the guards have to take it to such an extreme level? Did they think they’d get more money for behaving that way? According to participants in the experiment, guards were told to amp up their behavior, but it all seems a bit over the top.
You can read more about the actual experiment here, but I have to say that regardless of how the movie lined up with actual events, the movie was quite jarring. Moments became virtually unbearable to watch. Not because it was a poorly done movie, but because of how well it achieved its goal.
The Stanford Prison Experiment is available on Netflix and stars Billy Crudup, Michael Angarano, Ezra Miller, Tye Sheridan, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Thirlby, and Nelsan Ellis.