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Ethical Research in the Social Sciences

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

Research projects normally follow certain guidelines or rather rules. One of the guideline considerations for successful research projects is observing appropriate conduct and ethics. However, there are historical records of many research studies that in one way or the other, there were violations of good ethical conduct. Therefore, this paper will focus of one such study conducted by Philip Zimbardo and entitled “The Stanford Prison Experiment”

Indeed this is an interesting experiment for a number of reasons. To begin with, the experiment was conducted with an aim of examining group behavior as well as the importance of roles. Basically, the study was conducted in the basement of Stanford psychology department where the researchers had created a place that exactly resembled a prison (McLeod, 2008).

As for the participants, the researchers recruited 24 male college students whose participation was traded for $ 15 per day. Generally, the researchers were interested in recruiting individuals who were considered healthy both physically and psychologically. Out of the 24, half became prisoners and the other half assumed the role of prison guards. It is important to note that in this study, the researchers went an extra mile to make it more real (McLeod, 2008).

Therefore, at the beginning and over the research period, the researchers ensured everything was real including arresting participants from their homes, introducing them to prison life and also giving vague instructions to prison guards not to be violent with the prisoners but stay in control. However, by the second day, the prisoners had rebelled and ignored the guards, a behavior which caused the guards to react through psychological abuse and administering real punishments such as pushups and solitary confinement.

The research study was truly unethical because it exposed the participants to real dangers both physically as well as psychologically. In fact, this is evident in the study whereby in just a few days, two participants were already out citing depression and extreme stress as the main reasons. According to the British Psychological Society (2010), research participants are entitled to protection from physical as well as psychological dangers during the research. Therefore, based on this, it is evident that Zimbardo and his team did not conduct an ethical research study.


McLeod, S. (2008). Zimbardo- Stanford Prison Experiment. Retrieved Feb 6, 2015, from Simply Psychology:

The British Psychological Society. (2010). Code of Human Research Ethics. The British Psychological Society.

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