Critical Thinking Questions

Why didn’t the “good” guards in the Stanford prison experiment object to other guards’ abusive behavior? Were the student prisoners simply weak people? Why didn’t they object to being abused?


The good guards were fulfilling their social roles and they did not object to other guards’ abusive behavior because of the power of the situation. In addition, the prison supervisor’s behavior sanctioned the guards’ negative treatment of prisoners. The prisoners were not weak people; they were recruited because they were healthy, mentally stable adults. The power of their social role influenced them to engage in subservient prisoner behavior. The script for prisoners is to accept abusive behavior from authority figures, especially for punishment, when they do not follow the rules.

Describe how social roles, social norms, and scripts were evident in the Stanford prison experiment. How can this experiment be applied to everyday life? Are there any more recent examples where people started fulfilling a role and became abusive?


Social roles were in play as each participant acted out behaviors appropriate to his role as prisoner, guard, or supervisor. Scripts determined the specific behaviors the guards and prisoners displayed, such as humiliation and passivity. The social norms of a prison environment sanctions abuse of prisoners since they have lost many of their human rights and became the property of the government. This experiment can be applied to other situations in which social norms, roles, and scripts dictate our behavior, such as in mob behavior. A more recent example of similar behavior was the abuse of prisoners by American soldiers who were working as prison guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.