to create an institution "like" a prison in which to
investigate the behaviour of groups that are unequal in
resources, power and status, and the conditions under
which people do or do not assume allocated social roles.
Do participants accept roles uncritically?
do those given power excerise it with no restraint?
do those given no power accept their situation without complaint?
PRIOR TO THE STUDY
Study design was submitted for scruity by the BPS ethics
committee and all gave fully informed consent.
All participants underwent clinical, medical
and background screening and all gave fully
DURING THE STUDY
Clinical psychologists monitored participants
throughout the study.
there was a paramedic on duty throughout and security
guards were present to intervene if needed.
Also monitored by a five
person ethics committee who
were able to terminate the
study at any time
recruited by adverts in the national press, were
screened as well as adjusted and pro-social.
fully assessed over a weekend, provided
medical and character references and
during this screening process 332 male
applicants were reduced to 27.
From this 27, 15 men were chosen to represent diversity in
age, class and ethnicity.
matched on personality variables into five groups of three
and one from each group was allocated as a guard and the
other two as prisoners- thus there were five guards and ten
evening prior to the study guards told they had been selected
shown prison timetables, informed about their duties, roll calls
and their responsibility to "ensure institution runs smoothly"
asked to draw up rules and punishments- no
had superior accommodation, good quality
uniform, superior meals, keys to all doors
and punishment cell, assess to the guard
station with a surveillance system which
could view all cells and resources such as
sweets to give as rewards.
arrived one at a time
three man cells
hair was shaved on arrival, their uniform
was a t-shirt having a three digit number
loose trousers and sandals
NO VIOLENCE WAS ALLOWED, a list of rules and prisoners rights on the wall
The permeablity of the rules
although the guards were told that they had been selected on various
criteria, participants were told the tests were not always reliable thus
that prisoners could be promoted to guards on day three.
Legitimacy of rules
day three prisoners would be told that there
was really no difference between prisoners and
guards but that it was impractial to reassign
roles thus causing the perception that group
differences were not legitimate.
on the fourth day a new prisoner, chosen because
of his background as a Trade Union official was
introduced to provide the skills required to
organise "collective action"
the guards did not develop group ideniity/coherence,
they could not agree norms/priorities and did not
internalise the power role.
Until day three, when one prisoner was promoted to guard, individual
self interest predominated in prisoners as each prisoner tried to show the
qualities that might lead to promotion.
After day three, when roles were fixed the prisoners did develop group
identity and as a group challenged the guards, this led to a shift in power
and a collapse of the prisoner/guard system
On day six prisoners broke out of cells and
the regime of the guards was ended. All
decided to continue as a self-governing
"commune" but the prisoner who had led
the challenges did not co-operate.
By day eight more authoritarian system of
inequality was being proposed by some. The
study ended on day eight.
the way in which members of the group behave may
be pro or anti-social, and depends on the norms and
values of the group social identity.
falling groups create problems for their own members, and for others,
because when people cannot create a social system they will accept
extreme solutions proposed by others.
It is the breakdown of groups, and
powerless, that create the condition
It is possible to design and run powerful social
psychological research studies that are also