Back in December 2001 British social psychologists Alex Haslam and Steve Reicher conducted a replication of Philip Zimbardo’s classic Stanford Prison Experiment. Fifteen male participants were divided into ‘prisoners’ and ‘guards’ and kept in a specially constructed ‘prison’ for eight days, in order to explore “theoretical ideas about the psychology of power and resistance, tyranny and order”. The whole experiment was filmed by the BBC and broadcast in the BBC2 programme “The Experiment”. The study was controversial, not only from an ethical standpoint, but also because it challenged many of the original Stanford findings, and Reicher and Haslam had to devote a fair amount of energy to defending themselves.
Several articles have already been published about the study (see, for example, here and here) but the latest issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology (Vol 45(1), March 2006) features four articles that represent the most thorough exploration thus far of the results of the study. They include a vigorous challenge from Zimbardo who questions the “scientific legitimacy of research generated by television programming interests”, and an equally vigorous defence by Haslam and Reicher.
Follow the links for abstracts and access to full text articles:
- Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC prison study by Stephen Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam
- Tyranny, freedom and social structure: Escaping our theoretical prisons by John C. Turner
- On rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC prison study by Philip G. Zimbardo
- Debating the psychology of tyranny: Fundamental issues of theory, perspective and science by S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher
Details of the experiment, including a thorough FAQ page, can be found on the Exeter University website
here UPDATE (fixed link, Apr 07): now here.
Philip Zimbardo’s website for the Stanford Prison Experiment is here.