The Stanford Prison Experiment was a study done close to 44 years ago, that examined the psychological effects on students acting as prisoners and guards in a mock prison.
The experiment was funded by the U.S. Navy.
A professor at the Palo Alto campus, Dr. Philip Zimbardo supervised the experiment that involved about two-dozen students.
It was supposed to go one to two weeks, but instead was stopped 6 days in, after problems developed early on between inmates and guards.
The guards – the students with the power – really used that power.
One of the guards actually mimics the character ‘Captain’ from Cool Hand Luke’ – southern accent, wire-rimmed pilot shades, and he put everything into it.
Other ‘guards’ followed suit in pushing their authority.
And when pressed by colleagues to make the prison deputies ease up to ease the violence, Zimbardo said no.
The prisoners, in their own power, rebelled.
It turned into a disaster, but in the end, didn’t we learn a lot? About human behavior? About the how we treat one another?
About power and privilege over others?
The story of that experiment and its eye-opening effects has been made into a movie debuting on July 17.
KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis spoke with actor Billy Crudup, who plays Zimbardo in the film.