The Stanford Prison Experiment Movie Examines Power, Social Organization, and Conflict

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Last Updated: 20-Jun-23
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It all started with an ad in the paper, “Male college students needed for psychological study of prison life. $15 per day for 1-2 weeks.” (Alvarez, 2015) The Stanford Prison Experiment film is a movie based on a true story about Stanford`s Professor Philip Zimbardo in 1971 and his controversial psychology experiment in which college students pretend to be either prisoners or guards. As you watch the movie, you soon see how the experiment quickly gets out of hand. The movie takes place in the basement of Stanford University, which was turned into a mock prison. Each guard was given sunglasses and uniforms to wear to give the sense of authority. Each prisoner was given a number and a “jumpsuit” to give them a sense of prison.

Throughout the movie, I analyzed it and watched for how it related to cultural anthropology. The biggest anthological themes that I found throughout the film were, power structure of both the guards and prisoners, the social organization between both the guards and prisoners, as well as the conflicts that occurred. The characters in the movie had to use all of these things in order to “survive” in the mock prison. What happens when you put good people in an evil place? This is the question that comes to mind at the start of the film, and you learn its effect as you come to the conclusion of the film. Some might say it was inhumane, others would argue that it was all for research and learning. Where ever you lie on the issues, you first have to think about how this radical experiment opened the eyes of not only the participates, but the rest of the world that saw the film.

Cultural anthropologists make note of how customs of a culture change from place to place and how they may change over time, behavior in a culture is a huge factor, and analysis of The Stanford Prison Experiment reveals how small changes have a radical effect on a person’s culture and behavior. (Bernard & Gravlee, 2014)