Also called the Stanford prison experiment, this psychological experiment is known along with Milgrim’s experiment as one of the most compelling pieces of evidence for the human tendency to react dramatically to power imbalances. A group of young people were randomly divided into prisoner roles or guard roles, and the arbitrary amounts of cruelty and control exhibited by the guards exceeded anyone’s expectations. This video clip shows some of the original footage as well as present-day commentary (and some hilarious 1970s hairstyles).
The subjects knew that they were in an experiment, but they had no way of knowing how drastic the humiliation and psychological suffering would be. So again, we return to the idea of informed consent – that it’s important for people to understand what kind of situation they’ll be getting into in advance.