The quotations below concern the relevance of the BBC Prison Study for key issues in psychology and society.        

One of the significant achievements of the BBC Prison Study is to show that, if sufficient care is taken, it is possible to run powerful and impactful field studies into social processes that are also ethical.
12 Reicher & Haslam, 2006

The rather remarkable conclusion of this simulated prison experience is that the prisoners dominated the guards! The guards became increasingly paranoid, depressed and stressed … Several of the guards could not take it any more and quit. The prisoners soon established the upper hand, working as a team to undermine the guards .… What is the external validity of such events in any real prison anywhere in the known universe? In what kind of prisons are prisoners in charge? How could such an eventuality become manifest?”
13 Zimbardo, 2006, commenting on the BBC Prison Study

In most prisons, even those where correctional authorities make a reasonable effort to maintain control of their charges, an inmate hierarchy exists by which certain prisoners enjoy a great deal of power…. This power imbalance is of course much more marked in prisons where the authorities have ceded effective control to the inmate population, an all too common occurrence.
14 Human Rights Watch, 2001, from a report on US State Prisons
The inmates seemed to be running the prison not the authorities.
15 Nelson Mandela, 1994, reflecting on his time imprisoned on Robben Island

The optimal conditions for the triumph of the ultra-right were an old state and its ruling mechanisms which could no longer function; a mass of disenchanted, disoriented and disorganized citizens who no longer knew where their loyalties lay; strong socialist movements threatening or appearing to threaten social revolution, but not actually in a position to achieve it.... These were the conditions that turned movements of the radical right into powerful, organized and sometimes uniformed and paramilitary force.
16 Eric Hobsbawm writing on the rise of Fascism in 1930s Germany

Our purpose is not to replace an analysis that sees prisons as inevitable sites of tyranny with one that represents them as inevitable sites of resistance. Rather, our dual objective has been to show that resistance is every bit as ‘natural’ as tyranny, and to attempt to understand the social psychological processes that determine the relative impact of these countervailing forces. 
17 Haslam & Reicher, 2009


12 Reicher, S. D., & Haslam, S. A. (2006). Rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC Prison Study. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 1–40. (p.34)

13 Zimbardo, P. (2006). On rethinking the psychology of tyranny: The BBC Prison Study. British Journal of Social Psychology, 45, 47–53. (p.49)

14 Human Rights Watch (2001). No escape: Male rape in US prisons. Retrieved March 12, 2007 from www.hrw.org/reports/2001/prison/report.html

15 Mandela, N. (1994). Long walk to freedom: The autobiography of Nelson Mandela. London: Abacus. (p.536)

16 Hobsbawm, E. (1995). Age of extremes: The short twentieth century 1914-1991. London: Abacus. (p.127)

17 Haslam, S. A. & Reicher, S. D. (2009).  The social psychology of resistance: Prison studies and the case for a more expansive theoretical imagination. Unpublished manuscript: Universities of Exeter and St. Andrews. (p.47)


Do our findings defy both reality and imagination?

Do our findings defy both reality and imagination?