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Do have a click and read of the official web site forThe BBC Experiment. It really is very good and is regularly updated.




Here is a link to Alex Haslam's academic home page and another to Steve Reicher's academic home page.



Buy stuff


Online have a 30 minute DVD for sale which costs less than 50 quid and this collaboration with the authors of the study provides a detailed summary of the study. The DVD is very user friendly, informative and contains lots of clips from the study.



Alternatively you can buy the 4 one-hour programmes for about 100 quid, which is great if you have a lot of time, from here.

Home > Social > The Reicher and Haslam Page

The Reicher and Haslam Page

Reicher, S. & Halsam, S. A. (2006) Rethinking the psychology of tyranny

On this page you should find lots of useful stuff to help you in your learning of Reicher and Haslam's study.

Here is the most important page. Click here for a summary and evaluation of the BBC prison study.

This page has lots of Core Studies Section A past questions that you might want to practice. Please don?t email me for the answers.

Here is a crossword quiz to test your knowledge of the study.

And here is a great page on Jamie?s psychblog where you can read the original study and more.


Below is a very brief summary of the Reicher and Haslam BBC experiment.

Reicher and Haslam carried out this study to examine the consequences of randomly dividing men into groups of prisoners and guards within a specially constructed institution over a period of 8 days.

This study attempted to create an institution to investigate the behaviour of groups that were unequal in terms of power, status, and resources.

The method used was an experimental case study. It is a case study because it was a detailed study of a group of people and it was an experiment because a number of interventions (independent variables) were introduced at specific points of the study.

The 15 participants were all male, and met the criteria of being normal, decent and well adjusted individuals. They were recruited through advertisements in the national press and through leaflets. They were randomly divided into two groups of 5 guards and 10 prisoners.

For ethical reasons only people who were well-adjusted and pro-social, scoring at low levels on all social and clinical measures were included in the study.

The 15 participants were randomly divided into two groups of 5 guards and 10 prisoners.

One prisoner was not involved at the beginning of the study.

Prisoners were allocated to lockable 3-person cells and participants could be both video and audio recorded wherever they were. There was also daily psychometric testing. Furthermore, daily swabs of saliva were taken in order to ascertain cortisol levels.

The guards had a series of means by which to enforce their authority, including keys to all doors inside the prison, sole access to an upper level, a ?guards? station? with a surveillance system from which they could see into the prisoners? cells, resources (including snacks and cigarettes) to use as rewards or withdraw as punishments ? and, in addition, the ability to put prisoners on a bread and water diet.

The guards also had far better conditions than the prisoners, including superior meals, extra supplies of drinks and snacks, superior living conditions and well-made uniforms.

The nine prisoners then arrived one at a time. Their heads were shaved, everyday clothes were taken away and they had to shower. The prisoners? uniform consisted of a t-shirt printed with a 3-digit number, loose trousers and flimsy sandals. They were then put into cells.

There were two interventions ? permeability and cognitive alternatives. These interventions can be seen as the independent variables.

Permeability refers to the degree to which it is perceived to be possible to move from one particular group into another.

At their initial briefing, the guards were told that they had been selected because of their reliability, trustworthiness and initiative from pre-selection assessment scales. However the guards were told that they should observe the behaviour of the prisoners to see if anyone showed guard like qualities. If they did, they were told that there was provision for a promotion to be made on Day 3.

After the promotion of one prisoner to guard actually took place the possibility of movement was removed by announcing that there would be no further promotions.

Cognitive alternatives refers to group members' awareness of ways in which social relations could be restructured in order to bring about social change.

On day 4 a new prisoner was introduced. He was chosen for this role because of his background as an experienced trade union official. Hence, it was expected that his introduction would enable the prisoners (and the participants more generally) to envisage the achievement of a more equal set of social relations.

Haslam and Reicher divided the findings of the experiment into two phases rejecting inequality (day 1 to 6) and embracing inequality (day 7 ? 8)

In this first phase of the study the guards did not identify with their group and therefore did not act collectively. The prisoners also lacked a social identity initially and acted individually in the hope of being promoted. However after the promotion on day 3, the prisoners increasingly identified as a group and on day 6 the guards were overthrown by the prisoners.

In this second phase of the study the prisoners and guards decided to create a new self governing commune. However the commune was unable to deal with internal dissent and some of the former prisoners and former guards attempted to impose a new much harsher regime on the other participants. It was proposed by the new guards that this new regime would have strict rules and punishments to ensure that everyone ?toed the line?. The study therefore had to be terminated on day 8 as it would have gone on to break ethical guidelines.

Reicher and Haslam argue that unlike the prisoners, the guards failed to identify with their role. This made the guards reluctant to impose their authority and they were eventually overcome by the prisoners. Participants then established an egalitarian social system. When this proved unsustainable, moves to impose a tyrannical regime met with weakening resistance.

Haslam and Reicher suggest that it is powerlessness and the failure of groups that makes tyranny psychologically acceptable.




Below is a summary of Zimbardo's (1973) Stanford Prison Experiment.

The aim of Zimbardo?s study was to investigate the effects of being assigned to the role of either a prison guard or prisoner.

The participants were respondents to a newspaper advertisement, which asked for male volunteers to participate in a psychological study of ?prison life? in return for payment of $15 per day.

The 75 respondents completed a questionnaire about their family background, physical and mental health, prior experiences and attitudinal tendencies with respect to psychopathology and any involvement in crime.

Based on the results of the tests 24 men were selected. These 24 were judged to be the most physically and mentally stable, most mature, and least involved in antisocial behaviours. The participants were described as ?normal, healthy male college students who were predominantly middle class and white.? The 24 participants did not know each other prior to the study. The 24 participants were randomly assigned to the role of ?prisoner? or ?guard? and informed by telephone to be available at their homes on a particular Sunday when the experiment would begin.

A simulated prison was built in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford University. The simulated prison comprised of three small cells (each 6 x 9 ft) with three prisoners to a cell. The cells contained three cots (with mattress, sheet and pillow) for each prisoner. A small unlit room (2 x 2 x 7 ft) was used as ?solitary confinement?.

Those participants allocated the role of guards had to attend an orientation meeting the day before the induction of the prisoners. The guards were instructed in their administrative details. However the guards were not told how to behave apart from being explicitly told that they were not allowed to use physical punishment or physical aggression.

The uniforms of both prisoners and guards were intended to increase group identity and reduce individuality within the two groups.

The guards? uniform consisted of a plain khaki shirt and trousers, a whistle, a police night stick (a wooden batten) and reflecting sunglasses, which made eye contact impossible. The guards? uniforms were intended to convey a military attitude, while the baton and whistle were symbols of control and power.

The prisoners? uniform consisted of a loose-fitting muslin smock with an identification number on the front and back, no underwear, rubber sandals, a hat made from a nylon stocking and they had a light chain and lock around their ankle. Each prisoner was also issued with a toothbrush, soap, soap-dish, towel and bed linen. No personal belongings were allowed in the cell. The prisoners? uniforms were designed to de-individuate the prisoners and to be humiliating and serve as symbols of subservience and dependence.

The prisoner participants were unexpectedly ?arrested at their homes with the cooperation of the local police department. A police officer then charged them with suspicion of burglary or armed robbery, advised them of their rights, handcuffed them, thoroughly searched them (often in full view of their neighbours and passers by) and drove them in the back of a police car to the police station.

At the police station they had their fingerprints and photograph taken and were put in a detention cell. Each prisoner was then blindfolded and driven to the mock prison by one of the experimenters and a guard. Throughout this arrest procedure, the police officers involved maintained a formal, serious attitude, and did not tell the participants that this had anything to do with the mock prison study.

At the mock prison, each prisoner was stripped, sprayed with a delousing preparation (a deodorant spray) and made to stand alone and naked in the ?yard?. After being given their uniform and having a mug shot (ID picture) taken, the prisoner was put in his cell and ordered to remain silent.

The warden read them the rules of the institution (developed by the guards and the warden), which were to be memorised and had to be followed. Prisoners were to be referred to only by the number on their uniforms, also in an effort to depersonalise them.

Every day the participants were allowed three bland meals, three supervised toilet visits, and given two hours for the privilege of reading or letter writing. Work assignments had to be carried out and two visiting periods per week were scheduled, as were movie rights and exercise periods.

Three times a day prisoners were lined up for a ?count? (one on each guard work-shift). The original purpose of the ?count? was to establish that all prisoners were present, and to test them on the knowledge of the rules and their ID numbers. The first ?counts? lasted only about ten minutes but as conditions in the prison deteriorated, they increased in length until some lasted for several hours.

The results showed that the behaviour of the ?normal? students who had been randomly allocated to each condition, was affected by the role they had been assigned, to the extent that they seemed to believe in their allocated positions.

The guards became more and more verbally and physically aggressive. Zimbardo described this as pathology of power. The prisoners became increasingly depersonalised and several experienced extreme emotional depression, crying, rage and acute anxiety.

The experiment had to be stopped after just six days instead of the planned 14 days, mainly because of the pathological reactions of the participants. Five prisoners had to be released even earlier because of extreme emotional depression.

Zimbardo believes that the study demonstrate the powerful effect roles can have on peoples? behaviour. Basically the participants were playing the role that they thought was expected of, either a prisoner or prison guard.



Haney, C., Banks, W.C. & Zimbardo, P.G. (1973) A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Review, 30, 4-17.