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Stanford Report, October 31, 2001

Prison Experiment should not have been permitted


I just came across the long article in the Aug. 22 Stanford Report on the experiment 30 years ago in the Psychology Department, in which about 20 students were made into "prisoners" and "guards" in a "jail" constructed for the purpose, with the result that everybody became quite violent and the experiment had to be stopped. I was on campus at the time and remember well the distaste I and colleagues of mine felt hearing about it and this time around would like to say something.

It seemed to me then that the experiment was unethical, improper and reckless and should not have been permitted to be staged. This feeling has now been reinforced by reading about some of the details, like the use of the Palo Alto police to round up, book, strip search, etc. the "prisoners." I am glad to find in the article that under present rules on manipulation of human beings the experiment could not be performed today.

Professor Emeritus of Mathematics