The Stanford Prison Experiment and the Informed Consent Debate

The Stanford Prison Experiment, conducted by psychologist Philip Zimbardo in 1971, is one of the most famous and controversial studies in the field of psychology. The purpose of the experiment was to examine the psychological effects of perceived power and authority in a simulated prison environment. However, a key point of contention surrounding the study is whether or not the participants gave informed consent. In this expert article, we will examine the ethical dimensions of the Stanford Prison Experiment and explore the debate surrounding informed consent.

Background and Methodology of the Stanford Prison Experiment:
The Stanford Prison Experiment involved the simulated creation of a prison environment in the basement of Stanford University’s psychology building. Volunteer participants were randomly assigned to play either the role of “prisoner” or “guard. The study was intended to last two weeks, but was terminated after only six days due to the extreme emotional distress experienced by the participants.

Informed consent debate

One of the primary concerns raised about the Stanford Prison Experiment is the issue of informed consent. Informed consent is a fundamental ethical principle in research, requiring that participants fully understand the nature, purpose, risks, and potential benefits of the study before agreeing to participate.

Critics argue that the participants in the Stanford Prison Experiment did not give truly informed consent. They contend that the participants were not adequately informed of the potential psychological harm and distress they might experience during the study. In addition, it is argued that the participants may not have fully understood the long-term effects that the experiment could have on their mental well-being.

Zimbardo has responded to these criticisms by stating that while the participants were not fully aware of the specific details of the experiment, they had given general consent to participate in a psychological study. He also argues that the distress experienced by the participants was an unforeseen consequence of the experiment and not a deliberate intention.

Ethical implications and lessons learned

The debate over informed consent in the Stanford Prison Experiment raises important ethical considerations in the field of research. It highlights the need for researchers to ensure that participants have a full understanding of the study’s purpose, procedures, and potential risks. Researchers have a responsibility to prioritize the well-being and autonomy of participants and to obtain informed consent free from coercion or manipulation.

The Stanford Prison Experiment has led to significant changes in research ethics guidelines, emphasizing the importance of informed consent, the protection of participants’ rights, and the monitoring of psychological distress during studies. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) now play a critical role in reviewing and approving research protocols to ensure that ethical standards are met.


The issue of informed consent remains a subject of debate and controversy regarding the Stanford Prison Experiment. While critics argue that participants did not give informed consent due to a lack of understanding of the potential risks involved, others contend that participants gave general consent to participate in a psychological study. The ethical implications of the experiment have led to important discussions and changes in research practices, emphasizing the need for informed consent, participant protection, and adherence to ethical guidelines in psychological research.


Did the Stanford Prison Experiment have informed consent?

The study has received many ethical criticisms, including lack of fully informed consent by participants as Zimbardo himself did not know what would happen in the experiment (it was unpredictable). Also, the prisoners did not consent to being ‘arrested’ at home.

Was the Stanford Prison Experiment confidential?

However, the experiment did not adhere to the confidentiality aspect because the some of the prisoners’ and guards’ names were known and released to the public.

How did the Stanford Prison Experiment get approved?

Yes, the study was approved by the Stanford Human Subjects Review Committee, the Stanford Psychology Department, and the Group Effectiveness Branch of the Office of Naval Research.

What ethical principles did the Stanford Prison Experiment violate?

The Stanford Prison Experiment would not be allowed to be conducted today due to the various violations of ethics including depriving participants of the right to withdraw, informed consent, debriefing and the protection from physical and psychological harm.

Did Zimbardo give the right to withdraw?

As a result of Zimbardo’s ‘duel role’, ethical guidelines were breached, for example, the right to withdraw. The participant in question was later said to become emotionally disturbed, meaning he was not protected against psychological harm which he should have been.

Who was prisoner 819?

Tye Sheridan

Tye Sheridan as Peter Mitchell / Prisoner 819, a prisoner in the experiment. He is the second prisoner to quit after breaking down. Nelsan Ellis as Jesse Fletcher, a man recruited to the experiment by Zimbardo for his “experience”, having served 17 years in real prison.

Was the Stanford experiment ethical?

The Stanford Prison Experiment is frequently cited as an example of unethical research. The experiment could not be replicated by researchers today because it fails to meet the standards established by numerous ethical codes, including the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association.

Who is the longest living prisoner?

Charles Fossard, a French immigrant living in Australia at the time of his crime, is not only one of the oldest prisoners ever, but Fossard also holds the records for longest prison sentence ever served. Fossard was locked up in the J Ward of Ararat Lunatic Asylum for nearly 71 years before he died at the age of 92.

Who is the longest held prisoner?

More than 70 years. Homeless French Australian confined in the J Ward mental asylum in Ararat, Victoria after murdering an elderly man and stealing his boots. Died while still incarcerated at the age of 92, making this the longest served prison sentence in the world with a definite end.

What did Zimbardo say to prisoner 8612 we he asked to leave?

During the next count, Prisoner #8612 told other prisoners, “You can’t leave. You can’t quit.” That sent a chilling message and heightened their sense of really being imprisoned. #8612 then began to act “crazy,” to scream, to curse, to go into a rage that seemed out of control.

What did prisoner 819 do?

#819. The only prisoner who did not want to speak to the priest was Prisoner #819, who was feeling sick, had refused to eat, and wanted to see a doctor rather than a priest. Eventually he was persuaded to come out of his cell and talk to the priest and superintendent so we could see what kind of a doctor he needed.

Why was Joe Ligon imprisoned?

Joseph Ligon (born 1937 or 1938) is an American convicted murderer and former prisoner. He was America’s longest-serving prisoner who was convicted to a life sentence as a minor. At 15, he was found guilty of murder by association and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

What was the story behind The Prisoner?

The Prisoner is a 1967 British television series about an unnamed British intelligence agent who is abducted and imprisoned in a mysterious coastal village, where his captors designate him as Number Six and try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job. Patrick McGoohan played the lead role as Number Six.

What was the big white ball in The Prisoner?


Rover is a plot device from the 1967 British television program The Prisoner, and was a crucial tool used to keep ‘prisoners’ from escaping the Village. It was depicted as a floating white balloon that could coerce, and, if necessary, incapacitate or kill recalcitrant inhabitants of the Village.

What is the shoe in jail?

The SHU (pronounced “shoe”), or “security housing unit,” is a separate prison facility designed to isolate inmates from any human contact.

What is a pocket in jail?

PRISON POCKET: Another term for a person’s anus.