In 1973, Philip Zimbardo and his associates conducted the famous Stanford prison study. Researchers of this study created a simulated prison environment in which the participants’ behaviors of both conformity and obedience were investigated. A group of normal college students participated in the experiment by playing roles as prisoners and guards. The experiment demonstrated that participants were settling into their new roles within a short time and those in authoritative role intended to abuse the given power: In a few days some mock-guards started to mistreat and harass prisoners; some mock-prisoners became blindly obedient to the unfair authority of the abusive guards. In the simulated prison environment these ordinary college students on the prison guard role became careless and unsympathetic to the situation where their fellow students were suffering due to mistreatment. Several of mock-guards “devised sadistically inventive ways to harass and degrade the prisoners, and none of the less actively cruel mock-guards ever intervened or complained about the abuses they witnessed” (Haney & Zimbardo, 1998, p. 709). The results of this experiment showed that people intended to conform to the social roles they were expected to play, and the specific environment such as the prison could cause brutal behaviors of prison guards.
Haney, C., & Zimbardo, P. (1998). The past and future of U.S. prison policy: Twenty-five years after the Stanford Prison Experiment. American Psychologist, 53(7), 709-727. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.53.7.709