A critique of the Zimbardo prison experiment

My friend Kevin sent me an article by Peter Gray that criticizes the famous prison experiment in which Stanford students were made guards and prisoners to see how the environment of a prison affected human behavior.

Gray’s arguments are compelling, although of course it would be fascinating to see a response defending the experiment.



  1. The freakonomics authors basically came to the same conclusion in a podcast on how people behave when thrown into new situations.

    “… a lot of times what I’ve found is that that when I try to do experiments as an economist that work great for psychologists, I cannot get them to work. And I really have come to believe that it’s because the people in the study are so keen on doing what the researcher wants them to do, and they think that the psychologist wants them to behave in one way, and they think the economist wants them to behave in a different way, and so it’s hard to reproduce some of those psychological findings. I’d love to do the prison study, and I’d love to do it in a way that was unbiased. And I just, it’s one thing, I would bet a lot of money that things wouldn’t turn out the way that they did in that old Zimbardo study.” -Steven Levitt


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