Sample Psychology Paper on The Impact of Dr. Zimbardo’s Study on Social Psychology

The Value of the Study in Relation to Social Psychology

The study is invaluable in the social psychology discipline because it proves that most behaviors adopted by people are situational, rather than dispositional. It affirmed two critical concepts in psychology namely deindividualization and learned helplessness. Deindividualization is the situation where one acts in a particular manner because they are in a group. Such persons would otherwise not have contemplated acting that way had they been alone (Kulig, Pratt, & Cullen, 2017). This trend was common among prison guards in the experiment. The guards were brutal most of the time while exhibiting sadistic tendencies. Dr. Zimbardo had taken them through psychological evaluation where he found no traces of sadism in them. However, these traits still manifested. As for learned helplessness, the students who played the roles of prisoners soon succumbed to their stereotyped norms of prison life (Ilfeld, 2018). They felt helpless towards their guards even though they had prior information about the experiment. If behavior was dispositional, rather than situational, the prisoners and prison guards would have retained their usual conduct before, during, and after the experiment.

The Relevance of the Study in Relation to Contemporary World Issues

The experiment’s conclusion was that situational factors were more likely to shape a person’s behavior and attitude than dispositional factors. A leader like Kim Jong Un might not be such a bad person after all. However, situational factors compel him to be the “monster” the western world would like to think of him. He lived a good portion of his life watching his father rule over the country, and he developed a similar leadership mindset. It would be dishonest to expect him to act in any way different from his predecessor because that is how he knows leadership should be (Salam & Haag, 2018).

It comes as a surprise to many people that some high-profile officers in President Trump’s administration find themselves against the law. The president himself has shown some signs of belittling government institutions. In such an environment where he shows disregard for the law, his associates feel the de-individualization effect where they see it normal for them to engage in some uncouth activities. It is because of the feeling that “everybody else is doing it, so why not me?” The same applies to the process through which terrorist groups brainwash their followers. The groups make their members feel that their ultimate purpose is to kill the enemy, and the members feel the obligation to act that way.

The Value of the Study in Relation to Humanity as a Whole

To humanity, this study helps people understand why others behave the way they do. It seeks to discourage people from judging others based on the outcome of their conduct rather than environmental situations. For example, police officers and military personnel tend to be aggressive and rough not because it is their personality but because of their work environment. The prison guards in the experiment felt compelled to act like their stereotyped description of a prison guard. Similarly, people regarded to be role models in society could be acting that way because of expectations society has on them. For example, preachers have an inherent obligation to be holy and act morally upright even when this behavior is not in them. It is possible that they feel hopelessly trapped in the roles they should play. It is perhaps for this reason that some find themselves engaging in immoral acts and diverge from societal expectations. This outcome is similar to what happened to Prisoner #819 who had to scream, cry, and be hysterical when it was too much for him.

The Problems and Ethical Concerns the Study Created

One of the major ethical problems associated with this study is the lack of fully informed consent from participants. Even though they willfully submitted to participating in the experiment, Dr. Zimbardo and his team did not fully furnish them with the information necessary for them to decide whether they are truly interested in participation. For example, the participants did not consent about the place of arrest. It was insensitive for them to arrest students at home. There was little or no protection of the students from physical, mental, and psychological harm during the experiment. The experiment had to exempt one prisoner after he began crying uncontrollably on the 36th hour of the experiment (Tolich, 2016).

Current Safeguards in Place to Reduce Ethical Concerns Arising in Research Studies

Dr. Zimbardo’s experimental study contributed positively to the development of ethical research methodology. It is now a requirement that every study should seek approval from bodies of ethical research if they are to engage in human research. In the US, the body with this mandate is the Institutional Review Board while in the UK, it is the Ethics Committee within educational institutions (Tolich, 2016). Their approval only comes after confirming that the methodologies adopted by prospective studies do not violate ethical expectations. Additionally, the American Psychological Association found it necessary to prepare a set of ethical guidelines that provide a reliable framework for researchers when it comes to adhering to moral expectations.



Ilfeld, F. (2018). Group Dynamics and the New Heroism: The Ethical Alternative to the Stanford Prison Experiment. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 68(1), 124-131.

Kulig, T. C., Pratt, T. C., & Cullen, F. T. (2017). Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: A case study in organized skepticism. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 28(1), 74-111.

Salam, M., & Haag, M. (2018, June 11). Atrocities Under Kim Jong-un: Indoctrination, Prison Gulags, Executions. Retrieved from New York Times:

Tolich, M. (2016). Contemporary Ethical Dilemmas in Qualitative Research. In Qualitative Ethics in Practice (pp. 25-32). New York: Routledge.