In April 1971, a seemingly innocuous ad appeared in the classifieds of the Palo Alto Times: Male college students needed for psychological study of prison life. $15 per day for 1-2 weeks. In no time, more than 70 students volunteered, and 24 were chosen. Thus began the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE), conducted inside Jordan Hall on the Stanford campus. Originally scheduled to last two weeks, it was ended early over concerns regarding the behavior of both “prisoners” and “guards.” Still today, the SPE spikes enormous interest. Movies and documentaries have been made, books published, and studies produced about those six days. It’s clear today the research would never be allowed, but it was motivated by genuine concern over the ethical issues surrounding prisons, compliance with authority, and the evil humans have proved capable of. What was learned and at what cost? What is still being learned?
The Stanford Historical Society sponsors a look back at the controversial study with its leader, social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, Stanford Professor Emeritus of Psychology. Zimbardo is joined in conversation by Paul Costello who served as the chief communications officer for the School of Medicine for 17 years. He retired from Stanford in January 2021.
This program is organized by the Stanford Historical Society and co-sponsored by the Department of Psychology at Stanford University.