Have Results From the Stanford Prison Experiment Been Replicated by Others?

Have results from the Stanford Prison Experiment been replicated by others?

Have results from the Stanford Prison Experiment been replicated by others?

Check out this answer from Consensus:

The legacy of the SPE is complex, with its findings deeply ingrained in the field of psychology. However, the call for replication and organized skepticism is a reminder of the need for continuous scrutiny in scientific research. The debate over the SPE’s replicability underscores the importance of methodological rigor and the critical evaluation of research findings in the advancement of psychological science.


Re-evaluating the Stanford Prison Experiment: Replication and Critique

The Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE), conducted by Zimbardo and colleagues, has been a cornerstone in understanding the psychological effects of perceived power and authority in a simulated prison environment. However, the reproducibility of its findings has been a subject of debate within the academic community.

Replication Attempts

The SPE’s influence is evident in its widespread acceptance and citation within criminology and criminal justice journals. Despite this, there has been growing evidence that the findings of many classic experiments, including the SPE, often fail to replicate1. This raises questions about the scientific validity of such studies and the uncritical acceptance of their conclusions.

Organized Skepticism

A case study analyzing citations of the SPE suggests that while scholars generally accept the experiment’s message, there is a need for a more skeptical approach to its findings. The study advocates for the importance of replications and adherence to the scientific norm of organized skepticism1. This is particularly relevant in educational settings, where the SPE continues to be taught without critical examination of its methodology or results.

The BBC Prison Study

In response to the call for replication, a study conducted for BBC-TV attempted a partial replication of the SPE. However, this replication has been criticized for its scientific legitimacy, with claims that the study was influenced by television programming interests and suffered from biases and methodological issues2. The original researcher of the SPE, Zimbardo himself, has challenged the validity of the BBC prison study’s claims, highlighting the need for careful consideration of the context in which replications are conducted2.


Have results from the Stanford Prison Experiment been replicated by others?

Matthew Grawitch has answered Unlikely

An expert from Saint Louis University in Psychology

The Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) has been used a one of the “important studies” in psychology. As mentioned in the question, recent evidence suggests what many psychologists believed for quite a while, that perhaps its conclusions were less valid than claimed by researchers. To the best of my knowledge, no researchers have ever been able to replicate the results of the experiment. In addition, Haslam, Reicher, and Van Bavel (in press) have an article coming out that summarizes some of the issues with the “experiment” and focuses on “rethinking the nature of cruelty” (for a more lay oriented write up, see here). In addition, the BBC attempted to replicate the study and was unsuccessful.

While Phillip Zimbardo has released a set of rebuttals to some of the criticisms levied recently against he and the SPE, he doesn’t really address the lack of validity of the study. He does refer to Lovibond, Mithiran, and Adams (1979), which found that more standard custodial regimes produce more authoritarian behavior and more hostility than more participatory regimes. However, a commentary on the article contends that what was found by Lovibond et al. would apply more to a school or hospital setting as opposed to a prison setting.

When considering the evidence, it is unlikely that the SPE is replicable. Furthermore, as a simulation in which individuals were expressly selected to play roles (as opposed to the way prisons actually work), the results of the study – even given all the criticisms – are questionable. The claims made about the study results by Zimbardo himself (in much of his writings on the subject since then) overhype the importance of situational factors in affecting behavior. Yes, some individuals in situations like that, especially when their personality traits are aligned with desires for power and control, will likely behave poorly. Others will experience very different reactions, as Haslam et al. discussed, and only when structures exist to force conformity will individuals go against their natural inclinations and conform (the strength of the power to force conformity must be enough to override individual characteristics that might resist conformity). In the case of SPE, it appears that it was less a function of the individuals “overidentifying” with their roles and choosing to act cruelly as it was a function of the fact that the “leader” (i.e. Zimbardo) exerted enough power to force conformity and manipulate the situation to obtain the outcomes he was looking for (so in that way, it actually probably lends more credence to the work of Stanley Milgram).

The ultimate conclusion here is that people don’t just behave a certain way because of a given role. Their personality traits play a role in their decisions to behave in a given way. Furthermore, those in a position to exert power over someone in a given role can effectively override some individual predispositions, assuming the power is of sufficient magnitude.

Subscribe to
Our Newsletter