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Peer Review

The Stanford Prison Experiment

by Philip Zimbardo


Overall Numeric Rating:

4.5 stars
Content Quality: 4.75 stars
Effectiveness: 4.25 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Dec 06, 2007 by Criminal Justice Editorial Board
Overview: This material is comprised of an extensive slide show and associated clips that describe the design, implementation, and aftermath of a classical psychological study known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. The site contains discussion questions, related links, and additional content. This is a good overview of experimental and ethical issues related to research involving human subjects.
Type of Material: Case study
Recommended Uses: This material would supplement class lectures and/or discussions on ethical dilemmas associated with experimental research involving human subjects. The material would be especially beneficial for distance learning/online classes.
Technical Requirements: Browser, Real Player
Identify Major Learning Goals: Students will learn: (1) one example of how experimental research is conducted in the social sciences; (2) potential ethical dilemmas faced by researchers conducting human subjects research; and (3) issues associated with prison culture, power and control, and cognitive dissonance.
Target Student Population: Dependent upon context and delivery, this material would be appropriate for undegraduate and graduate students enrolled in research methods, corrections, ethics, and a variety of other criminal justice and social science courses.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Before engaging with this material, students should know the basics concerning experimental research in the social sciences.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths: This material can be used for several classes within most social science disciplines, including criminology/criminal justice, psychology, and sociology. It is an especially relevant case study to use in research methods and ethics classes. The material provides a good example of experimental research through the use of a thorough slide show. Overall, it provides a clear overview of the experiment, the problems that arose from it, and the lessons learned in the aftermath.
Concerns: This material would work best as an assignment that required student analysis and critique, supplemented with instructor feedback and interaction. It is important for the instructor to emphasize to students that the experiment breaks many contemporary rules regarding research ethics. This classic example of problems associated with human subjects research would be stronger if supplemented by the instructor with a more current example. It is important to emphasize to students that the problems that developed during this experiment, and the associated ethical dilemmas faced by the researchers, still occur and that, therefore, the material is still relevant.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.25 stars
Strengths: Students can navigate through the slides and information in 15-20 minutes. The accompanying clips are short, but they illustrate the points very well. In addition, it would be very easy to develop writing assignments and in-person or online discussions around this material.
Concerns: Instructors using this material need to add learning objectives. Context and guidance are very important in ensuring that students understand the concepts associated with this material.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths: This is a clear and professional site that is easy to navigate, with well-labeled sections that students can go through at their own pace.
Concerns: None