Thesis Statement: Power Can Define and Alter the Behavior of People Based on Situational Factors

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Middlebury College
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Movie review
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Power is the ability to control and influence others to achieve certain objectives. Power has the great effect on how people live because those with powers constrain the outcome of others Galinsky, Magee, Gruenfeld, Whitson, & Liljenquist, 2008). In The Stanford Experiment film, the psychological behavior of people is influenced by power. The guards have power over the prisoners, and therefore they would force them to do anything to get what they want. The powerful in the society roam in a different psychological space than those without power.

1. The Goals of The Stanford experiment

The experiment was about the investigation of the psychological effects caused by perceived power. The experiment focused mainly on the life of struggle between the prison guards and the prisoners. Prisoners and guards were students who had been randomly chosen from the Stanford College. The researchers provided them with uniforms and batons to the guards. Prisoners were wearing stocking caps, smocks that were ill-fitting and a chain around the ankle to show that they were prisoners (Cherry, 2014). These clothes were very uncomfortable. After being arrested and charged with armed robbery, the prisoners were taken to small cells which held three prisoners. Guards worked in shifts of eight hours while prisoners stayed in prison all day and all night during the whole study.

The Research was about Institutions and Power

The researchers who include Zimbardo were investigating out whether the levels of brutality reported from institutions such as American prisons was caused by the sadistic personalities of the guards which are known as dispositional or was due to the prison environment. In the experiment, guards were to act harshly and aggressively due to the rigid environment of prisons. Prisoners tried all the best to please the guards, but the guards became more hostile making their conflicts inevitable (Cherry, 2014). Guards had all the power over the prisoners by bathing them and making them wash the washrooms with bare hands. They were making the prisoners to fell that they have no privacy and are not free to make any decision. The research was to prove if guards and prisoners would behave in a non-aggressive manner to support the dispositional hypothesis. However, if they because they acted the way people in real prisons behave, the experiment supported the situational explanation.

The power of institutions in shaping behaviors and how people are shaped by those preexisting expectations

The prison institutions give more power to guards as opposed to the prisoners and therefore they are shaped to behave fearfully. They wake up very early at 2:00 pm and failure to do so they are wakened by fire extinguishers gas. The prisoners had to obey every word the guards say to avoid push-ups punishments which lasted up to three hours. One is not free of doing anything, for instance, prisoner #819 refuses to eat cold and dirty sausages claiming he is on hunger strikes and he was thrown into a dark hole. They adapted to the prison life and even began telling tales to the guards and even siding with guards against those prisoners who failed to follow the rules (Zimbardo, 2014).

The research is about how people abuse power and authority

The guards had been given too much power over the prisoners, and this makes them mistreat the prisoners using physical punishment where the prisoners were insulted and given physical harassments, orders and this was very dehumanizing. They were also made to do push-ups with just a single disobedience. One guard even stepped on the backs of the prisoners while doing push-ups and ordered the other prisoners to sit on the back of the following prisoners. When the prisoners refused to come out of their cells, they were stripped naked, and their beds were taken out (Zimbardo, 2014). When the superintendent came in, he told them to continue with the torture, and therefore the guards became more aggressive. All these acts showed how the guards misused their power and authority.

The power amplify a person

Power makes a person great and strong for instance guards had been given total power over the prisoners, and this makes them make whatever rule they wanted against the prisoners, for instance, bathing them and not allowing them to brush their teeth. A guard could even step on their backs of the prisoners when the prisoners were doing sit-ups. The chef guard did not question the mishandling the prisoners were going through, but instead he asked them to go on giving them more power.

The Demonstration of power in the film

The film demonstrates the power of social situations which affect the behaviors of people. When an individual is denied all the rights, they tend to behave in a manner to oppose those rules. The guards had been given too much power, and they used it to dictate what they wanted from the prisoners.

How power transform individuals

When one has power one feels that he/she can influence the outcomes of everything (Zimbardo, 2007). In the films, the guards felt like they could control everything being done by the prisoners because of their situation. The guards set the rules and orders that the prisoners had to follow and this is how power is demonstrated in the movie.

Implication of this demonstration of power

This demonstration of power caused a lot of problems between the prisoners and the guards. Prisoner #8612 suffered from an acute emotional breakdown, rage, uncontrollable crying and even disorganized thinking and therefore, had to be let out of the experiment (Zimbardo, 2014). When things became severe, the experiment had to be stopped on the 6th day instead of the 14th day because of increase aggressive torture.

Elimination of asymmetrical power

It is possible to eliminate asymmetrical power in research by making sure that the guards are given minimum power in prison institutions. Another way is to oversee that the rights and privileges of the prisoners are given to them. Guards should be restricted from using severe physical torture to the prisoners.



Galinsky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Gruenfeld, D. H., Whitson, J. A., & Liljenquist, K. A. (2008). Power reduces the press of the situation: implications for creativity, conformity, and dissonance. Journal of personality and social psychology, 95(6), 1450, Acccessed August 31, 2017,

Demonstrating the Power of Social Situations via a Simulated Prison Experiment. (2004). Retrieved from

Zimbardo, P. (2014). The Stanford Prison Experiment . Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (2014). The Stanford Prison Experiment . Retrieved from experiment.htm

Zimbardo, P. (2007). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York, NY: Random House.


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