SAN FRANCISCO — The British Broadcasting Corp. has planned to borrow from a controversial 1971 Stanford University experiment on prison life for a reality television show.
The show, called “The Experiment,” will place two groups of volunteers in a mock prison and record what ensues.
The 1971 experiment by Professor Philip Zimbardo divided two dozen volunteer students into prisoner and guard roles, and the “prisoners” were locked in cells in the Psychology Department’s basement.
In the real experiment, the prisoners rebelled and the jailers responded with force and humiliation, resulting in one student being released after having an emotional breakdown.
Zimbardo stopped the experiment after six days, and now considers the experiment unethical. But it is widely regarded as a landmark study in how social circumstances supersede such factors of class, intelligence, religion and personality.
The BBC show is being developed by two psychologists S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen Reicher who said they will use it as research. They said they have safeguards in place to prevent the abuse that happened in 1971.
“We believe that our research is immensely relevant to current issues in society and will advance debate about ... social behavior significantly beyond the insights afforded by the Stanford prison study — but without compromising ethical standards,” Haslam wrote in an e-mail to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The show is due to air in March.