The Stanford Prison Experiment: 40 Years Later

Exhibition Highlights 40th Anniversary of the Stanford Prison Experiment

Material Available Online:


Carried out August 15-21, 1971 in the basement of Jordan Hall, the Stanford Prison Experiment set out to examine the psychological effects of authority and powerlessness in a prison environment. The study, led by psychology professor Philip G. Zimbardo, recruited Stanford students using a local newspaper ad. Twenty-four students were carefully screened and randomly assigned into groups of prisoners and guards. The experiment, which was scheduled to last 1-2 weeks, ultimately had to be terminated on only the 6th day as the experiment escalated out of hand when the prisoners were forced to endure cruel and dehumanizing abuse at the hands of their peers. The experiment showed, in Dr. Zimbardo’s words, how “ordinary college students could do terrible things.” Now, 40 years later, the experiment, long hailed as a landmark in the ethics of psychological experimentation, still enjoys public fascination and intrigue, especially following the events of Abu Ghraib (2003).

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the experiment the University Archives is holding an exhibit of materials from the Archives and the recently-acquired Zimbardo papers in the display cases of the Albert M. Bender Room, 5th Floor, Green Library (Bing Wing). Materials on display include application materials, original prison gowns, photographs, transcripts, press material, news clippings, and a follow-up evaluation form.

The Stanford Prison Experiment: 40 Years Later will be on display from August 15 through October 22, 2011. The exhibit is accessible whenever Green Library is open and hours vary with the academic schedule. For Library hours, call 650-723-0931.

NOTE: first-time visitors must register at the south entrance portal to Green Library's East Wing to gain access to the exhibition in the Bing (west) Wing.