Dr Philip Zimbardo


Dr Philip Zimbardo

Psychology A-level pupils attended a lecture by influential American psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University, Dr Philip Zimbardo.

Dr Zimbardo became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox and The Time Cure. He was the keynote speaker at the event in Westminster to an audience of 500 A-level psychology students and teachers from across the UK. Despite carrying out his research at Stanford University nearly 50 years ago, Zimbardo's research into human behaviour is still used as part of the A-level psychology course, but also as training in the military and schools worldwide.

Zimbardo's most famous experiment could not be recreated today due to controversial methodology and ethical issues surrounding it. American male student volunteers were randomly assigned to a role of either prisoner or guard. The volunteers then were given their appointed uniform and told to take on their roles however they saw fit. They entered a mock prison and the way they behaved was observed by Zimbardo and his small team of colleagues 24 hours a day. What wasn't expected was the harsh way the guards took on their roles and made the prisoners become victims of abuse, bullying, humiliation and mild torture by the mock guards. Despite the discomfort of breaking many ethical guidelines Zimbardo himself was so caught up in the observation of human nature he allowed it to continue past the "protection of participants". It was only when Christina Maslach, his girlfriend and future wife, pointed out to him how badly the experiment's participants were being treated that the exercise was abandoned after a total of 6 days.

Zimbardo alongside his wife Christina freely talked about his work and the influence it has today. He also spoke about his more recent work looking at modern day males and his infamous book, The Lucifer Effect.

Their talks were followed by an engaging question and answer session with our own Lydia T asking Dr Zimbardo,
"If you could turn back time would you carry out the 1971 Stanford experiment again?"
"Yes - but mainly because of the learning about dire situations driving people to behave in horrific ways, and the applications this gives to aspects of our life."