The Stanford Prison Experiment

  1. What were the independent variables and what were the dependent variables in this experiment?
  2. What were the important variables in the study and how were these variables conceptualized?
  3. What were the major threats to validity that were not controlled adequately, from your point of view, in this study?
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Please see response attached, which is also presented below. I hope this helps and take care.


  1. This is my 2nd posting of these questions. I have all the information from the web on this experiment, but I am having a major problem with these questions.


I am wondering if your last response brought you any closer to answering these questions. Do you understand the general meaning of independent variable (IV), dependent variable (DV), and validity issues? This is important in order to answer these questions.

a. What is an independent variable? What is a dependent variable? What factors impact validity?

Please look up these definitions first if you need a review of these concepts (see for definitions and examples of IV and DV).

See for definitions and examples of validity issues.

Let’s take a closer look at where I can be helpful:

  1. What were the independent variables (e.g., roles in prison environment) and what were the dependent variables (e.g., resultant behavior) in this experiment?

The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of being assigned to the role of a prisoner and a guard. The study is usually described as an experiment with the independent variable being the conditions that the subjects are assigned to (e.g., roles in prison environment). This is the variable that is manipulated in the experiment (prisoners versus guards).

One way to determine what the INDEPENDENT VARIABLE is is to ask the following questions, What groups were assigned? What variable was manipulated in the study? In other words, the researcher manipulated prison roles (prisoners versus guards), which is the independent variable, by randomly assigning the participants to the prisoner or the guard group. The dependent variable is the resultant behavior.

Example 1: The purpose of the experiment was to study the behavior of normal people under a particular situation (captivity), that of playing the roles of prisoners and guards respectively, in a “mock prison.” The general thesis that the authors believe is proved by the experiment is that many, perhaps the majority of people, can be made to do almost anything by the strength of the situation they are put in, regardless of their morals, personal convictions, and values (P. H. G. Zimbardo, 1972); more specifically, that in this experiment the prison situation transformed most of the subjects who played the role of “guards” into brutal sadists and most of those who played the role of prisoners into abject, frightened, and submissive men, some having such severe mental symptoms that they had to be released after a few days. In fact, the reactions …