Conformity to social roles: Zimbardo's research

  • Created by: Lilydavis
  • Created on: 29-04-19 22:56

Conformity to social roles: Zimbardo's research


  • Internal validity - there was control over variables e.g. they chose emotionally stable participants who were randomly assigned to roles
  • Supporting evidence - Orlando (1973) selected staff as a psychiatric hospital to play patients on a ward for 1 week, after 2 days several participants experienced symptoms of psychological disturbance, it had to be ended early because some were losing their sense of self-identity. This supports Zimbardo's argument that the situation has great power to influence behaviour.
  • Zimbardo pointed to quantitative data that showed that 90% of conversation were about prison life and 'prisoner 416' expressed the view that the prison was a real one


  • Banuazizi and Mohavedi (1975) argued that the participants were play-acting rather than genuinely conforming to a role e.g. one guard claimed he based his role on a character from the film Cool Hand Luke
  • Fromm (1973) accused Zimbardo of exaggerating the power of the situation to influence behaviour - only a third of guards behaved in a brutal manner
  • Reicher and Haslam's partial replication of the STE found that it was the prisoners who eventually took control of the mock prison
  • Major ethical issues arose because of Zimbardo's dual roles in the study e.g. he responded to a student who wanted to leave as a superintendent worried about the running of the prison rather than as a researcher


Zimbardo strongly argues that the benefits gained about our understanding of human behaviour and how we can improve society should out balance the distress caused by the study.


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