What’s Wrong with the Stanford Prison Thing?

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I’ve been reading a very promising book on cults and–sad trombone–they didn’t catch up on how the Stanford Prison Thing is bogus. I guess we all need to do our homework before we put words in the world, right? Right? Tell me I’m wrong!!


The “Stanford Prison Experiment” is arguably the second-best known psychology story. I think Pavlov and his dogs is still best known. It has drools, it has rules! (The rhesus monkey thing is my personal favorite, because I think everyone should get more hugs. The other two studies do not include hugs).

Just in the past day, I came across two mentions of The Stanford Prison Thing, one in a discussion of social pressure and the other in a discussion of how the Stanford Prison Experiment is bullshit.

The story most often told is that it was an experiment in which college students behaved with brutality toward their peers, simply by being assigned the role of guards. The experiment had to be halted because it was too distressing to participants and it was never exactly replicated because it would be irresponsible to do an experiment that was so damaging to participants.

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