I am still not very clear with what the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Zimbardo was trying to conclude about from the experiment.

From Wikipedia, it says the conclusion was to:

demonstrate the impressionability and obedience of people when provided with a legitimizing ideology and social and institutional support. The experiment has also been used to illustrate cognitive dissonance theory and the power of authority.

How does this have any relation or impact on the Conformity theory?

I know that the experiments by Sherif and Asch have concluded the theory of Conformity quite clearly. The Zimbardo's one however seems somewhat implicit. The notes that I read seem to put the Stanford Prison experiment right after the ones by Sherif and Asch. So I believe it should have some relation with the Conformity theory. But I cannot see clearly how is it related to the Conformity theory, particularly in the context of Communications.

  • $\begingroup$ An earlier question on the connection between cognitive-psychology and the SPE might be of interest. $\endgroup$ Apr 15, 2012 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @ArtemKaznatcheev Thanks for the link to the question! I have read about that question before posting this. But I am still not very clear with how the Stanford Prison Experiment connected to the Conformity Theory, which seem to talk only about the Informational/Normative Influences. $\endgroup$
    – xenon
    Apr 15, 2012 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ The SPE wasn't really an "experiment" by a formal definition, so take it's "conclusion" with a grain of salt. There wasn't a measurable dependent variable either, something even the creators recognized. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Brocka
    Apr 15, 2012 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ Current interviews with participants cast doubt on the interpretation of their action medium.com/s/trustissues/the-lifespan-of-a-lie-d869212b1f62 $\endgroup$
    – CMS
    Aug 4, 2018 at 20:19

1 Answer 1


Zimbardo himself states that both informative and normative conformity played an important role in the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Source: http://www.lucifereffect.com/guide_conform.htm

[...] Informative conformity often occurs in situations in which there is high uncertainty and ambiguity. In an unfamiliar situation, we are likely to shape our behavior to match that of others. The actions of others inform us of the customs and accepted practices in a situation. Others inform us of what is right to do, how to behave in new situations.

In addition to conforming to the group norms due to lack of knowledge, we also conform when we want to be liked by the group. This type of conformity, called normative conformity, is the dominant form of social conformity when we are concerned about making a good impression in front of a group. Though we may disagree secretly with the group opinion, we may verbally adopt the group stance so that we seem like a team player rather than a deviant.

Both of these pressures impact us everyday, for good or for worse. [...] Similarly, in the Stanford Prison Experiment, the subjects who were randomly assigned as guards gradually adopted the behavior of cruel and demanding prison guards because that became the behavioral norm in an alien situation.

  • $\begingroup$ The statement "In addition to conforming to the group norms due to lack of knowledge, we also conform when we want to be liked by the group." is not relevant to the work of Sherif. Having studied with Sherif, his understanding of the auto kinetic effect and normative behavior is much more profound than the simplistic phrasing presented above. $\endgroup$
    – CMS
    Aug 4, 2018 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ @CMS Welcome to the site! Your comments are most welcome, but they did not constitute an answer (rather, a reply to this particular answer, which is why I moved it here). Unfortunately, I had to shorten it since comments are limited in length. I suggest you visit the about page to learn a bit more about how this site works. Once you get a couple of up votes on an answer you posted you will be able to comment on posts directly yourself. $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Aug 5, 2018 at 10:52

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