Screening - The Stanford Prison Experiment

7 August 2019
Theatre Auditorium, The University Club of Western Australia, UWA
General Public, Faculty/Staff, Students, Alumni

Book a seat

The Stanford Experiment

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Join us for a screening of The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015), followed by a discussion with Professor Alex Haslam, UQ.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is a 2015 feature film that revisits the psychology of power and abuse. In 1971, twenty-four male students at Stanford University were divided into guards and prisoners in a mock jail, and quickly spiralled into sadism and subordination. Adapting it for the screen, director Kyle Patrick Alvarez cranks up the claustrophobia to nightmarish levels.The film won the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance Film Festival 2015.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is one of the most famous psychology experiments ever conducted. It has featured in many textbooks, and has taught generations of psychology students a seemingly simple and compelling lesson about human nature. It was even the subject of congressional testimony regarding prison reform in the US in the 1970s.

However, it turns out the conclusions derived from the Stanford Prison Experiment were built on shaky ground. Apart from questions regarding the ethics of the experiment, as well as methodological issues (in fact, the experiment was never published in a peer-reviewed psychology journal), new evidence suggests that the whole endeavour was more of a dramatic production than an experiment.

It is true that prisons are damaging places for both prisoners and prison workers. But it is dangerous to derive general implications about human behaviour from flawed evidence; the Stanford Prison Experiment has been used to banalize evil by arguing that any ‘‘ordinary’’ individual can be made to engage in extraordinarily malicious acts, and this is simply not the case. As Professor Alex Haslam will argue, the social psychology textbooks will need to be re-written.

Alex Haslam is Professor of Social and Organizational Psychology and an Australian Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland. His research focuses on the study of group and identity processes in organizational, social, and clinical contexts. Together with colleagues, Alex has written and edited 14 books and published over 240 peer-reviewed articles on these topics. His most recent books are The New Psychology of Health: Unlocking the Social Cure (with Catherine Haslam, Jolanda Jetten, Tegan Cruwys and Genevieve Dingle, Routledge, 2018) and Social Psychology: Revisiting the Classic Studies (2nd Ed. with Joanne Smith, Sage, 2017). Alex is a former Chief Editor of the European Journal of Social Psychology and currently Associate Editor of The Leadership Quarterly. Alex has received many awards, including the 2018 Australian Psychological Society’s Award for Distinguished Contribution to Psychological Science.

This event is a collaboration between the UWA School of Psychological Science and the UWA Institute of Advanced Studies.

Please note that this film has an M rating due to themes of abuse, violence, and coarse language. Films classified M (Mature) contain content of a moderate impact and are recommended for persons of 15 years and over. Children under 15 may legally access this material because it is an advisory category. However, M-classified films may include classifiable elements such as violence and nudity of moderate impact that are not recommended for children under 15 years. Parents and guardians may need to find out more about the film’s specific content, before deciding whether the material is suitable for their child.