Social Statuses, Roles, & the Relevance of Zimbardo’s Research

Social Statuses, Roles, & the Relevance of Zimbardo’s Research

The Stanford Prison Experiment Social Relevance

Groups, both primary and secondary, impact social statuses and roles. Depending on the group, one will generally take on different attributes of the group. For example, a college student is role just as a member of family makes places one in the role of daughter or son, dependent on the customs and culture. Different roles are characterized by variances in status attributes such as power (Macionis, 2011). As a college student, one is subordinate to teachers and faculty because the role dictates.

What is interesting about status and role is the characteristics can form the basis of behavior. In specific humans seem to adapt to specific roles and statuses and act in accordance with them. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo became famous for the Stanford Prison Experiment, which illustrates this phenomena. The experiment was conducted to observe the effect of prison environment on inmates and guards, using a mock prison with randomly chosen people to be guards and inmates placed in the experiment with guard and prisoner roles and statuses.

The experiment turned into more than anyone had bargained for, with both guards and prisoners soon becoming hostile. Within four days, the researchers removed five prisoners who displayed signs of “extreme emotional depression, crying, rage and acute anxiety” (Hanley, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973:81). Before the end of the first week, the situation deteriorated leaving researchers no choice but to end the experiment.

What was learned from this experiment was the people adapted to their roles and statuses and acted in accordance with their power and position. Guards used exerted power over inmates because they could. There are many implications for this research, perhaps most important is the idea that roles status can negatively impact behavior.


Macionis, J. (2011) Society: The Basics, Eleventh Edition, by. Published by Prentice Hall. by Pearson Education, Inc.

Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

Updated: 10/08/2021


Triola Vincent. Thu, Jan 21, 2021. Social Statuses, Roles, & the Relevance of Zimbardo’s Research Retrieved from

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