I had the good fortune of attending a screening of The Stanford Prison Experiment, followed by a Q&A with Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez and Stanford University Professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo.
In 1971, Dr. Philip Zimbardo cast 24 student volunteers as prisoners and guards in a simulated jail to examine the source of abusive behavior in the prison system. The results astonished the world, as participants went from middle-class undergrads to drunk-with-power sadists and submissive victims in just a few days.
The acting was superb and the director did a great job eliciting the emotional tone of the experiment. Zimbardo is a highly controversial figure, so it was not a surprise when the first question came from an audience member asking how he could live with himself and stating he should have been fired. As she stormed out in disgust, a woman who identified herself as a black panther gave a monologue of praise for his study. The emotionally-charged controversy of The Stanford Prison Experiment continues, even after more than 40 years.
Was the study about our individual fallibility, or about broken institutions? Were its findings about prisons, specifically, or about life in general?
The Real Lesson of The Stanford Prison Experiment is an interesting look at this controversial study from The New Yorker.
Here is a clip with some of the original footage: