Being able to ask a well-known psychologist any question in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
This chance came to SIUE’s campus on Tuesday, Feb. 18, when the SIUE Psychology Club set up a live video chat with Philip Zimbardo, who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, one of the most controversial psychological experiments of the twentieth century.
The 50th anniversary of the Stanford Prison Experiment will be in 2021. The experiment was supposed to last for two weeks but ended after only six days. Some prisoners broke down in the middle of the experiment within the first few days and left early.
Zimbardo’s experiment exposed the power struggle between prisoners and their guards, showing the prisoners’ vulnerability and obedience to the guards, who became more sadistic. Zimbardo and the guards took on authoritative roles and subjected prisoners to psychological torture, refusing to let prisoners leave when they wanted to.
According to junior psychology major and president of Psychology Club Mario Diaz, of Edwardsville, this event has been in discussion since the fall semester.
“Initially, we wanted to have Dr. Philip Zimbardo physically at one of our events,” Diaz said. “There was back and forth communication between Zimbardo’s assistants and me. We settled for the one-hour question-and-answer interview. We were more than happy to have that because even having the opportunity to talk to him was amazing.”
According to Lisa Wood, a senior psychology major and the treasurer of Psychology Club from Edwardsville, there was anticipation of a huge turnout.
“We sent the flier out to all of the psychology professors to promote the event,” Wood said. “Edwardsville High School’s psychology club heard about it and wanted to come.”
Despite interest from outside groups, the interview with Zimbardo was exclusively for SIUE students. Senior psychology major and Psychology Club’s Vice President Madalynn McKenzie, of Alton, Illinois scanned student IDs at the door.
“We want to keep it only for SIUE students so they have a chance to talk to [Zimbardo],” McKenzie said.
While there was an emphasis on the Stanford Prison Experiment and several questions about the study during the Q&A, Zimbardo also detailed his studies on time perspectives, shyness and the Heroic Imagination Project among other endeavors. Zimbardo was responsible for founding the Shyness Clinic at Stanford University, which was founded in the late 1970s.
During the Q&A interview, Zimbardo warmly opened up about his personal life and experiences, tying them to the beginning of his love for psychology. Since his senior year of high school, Zimbardo has released over 600 articles and books. Zimbardo informed those who attended the event that he still kept in touch with a number of prisoners and guards who participated in the Stanford Prison Experiment.
The Zimbardo Q&A event left some students, including senior psychology major Natalie Lyon, of O’Fallon, Illinois, with a new perspective on the famed psychologist.
“I thought it was a really fun opportunity,” Natalie Lyon said. “I have more respect for him now after hearing him in person, rather than reading a textbook.”
Freshman undeclared student Patrick Lyon, of O’Fallon, Illinois, said he also gained a new perspective following the Q&A.
“I thought I would be intimidated by him,” Patrick Lyon said. “But he was really cool. He has been doing this for over fifty years.”
Students interested in learning more about the Stanford Prison Experiment can visit the experiment’s official website at www.prisonexp.org. Learn more about the Heroic Imagination Project at www.heroicimagination.org. Students interested in joining Psychology Club can visit the organization’s page on Get Involved.