Philip Zimbardo

From Academic Kids

Philip G. Zimbardo (born March 23, 1933) is an American psychologist, best-known for his Stanford prison experiment and bestselling introductions to psychology.

Zimbardo grew up in New York City, in the South Bronx, and went to Monroe High School with Stanley Milgram. He earned his Bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College, and his Master's degree and Ph.D. from Yale University.

After teaching intensively at New York University, in 1968 he accepted a tenured position as professor of psychology at Stanford University. There he conducted the famed Stanford prison experiment, in which 21 normal college students were randomly assigned to be prisoners or guards in a mock prison located in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford (3 additional college students were selected as alternates, but did not participate in the experiment). The college students quickly began acting out their roles, the "guards" becoming stunningly sadistic and the "prisoners" showing extreme depression and passivity. Planned to go for an entire week, the experiment had to be terminated after only several days when Christina Maslach, then Zimbardo's girlfriend, saw what was going on and insisted it be stopped. (Maslach has since married Zimbardo and is now a psychology professor at UC Berkeley.) The experiment led to theories about the importance of the social situation in individual psychology that are still controversial today.

After the experiment, Zimbardo turned to look for ways he could use psychology to help people and ended up founding The Shyness Clinic in Menlo Park, California, which treats shy benavior in adults and children. Zimbardo's research on shyness also led him to write several bestselling books on the topic.

Zimbardo is also the author of an introductory Psychology textbook, Psychology and Life, which is used in many American undergraduate psychology courses. He also hosted a PBS TV series titled Discovering Psychology.

In 2002, Zimbardo appeared in the reality television show The Human Zoo. Participants were observed inside a controlled setting while Zimbardo and a British psychologist analyzed their behavior.

That same year he was named president of the American Psychological Association. Under his direction, the organization developed the website (, a compendium of psychological research that has applications for everyday life.

In November 2003 Zimbardo retired from Stanford, but he still returns each winter to teach "Exploring Human Nature", a "greatest hits" course of his favorite topics.

In 2004 Zimbardo, testifying in the case of "Chip" Frederick, a guard at Abu Ghraib, argued that Chip's sentence should be lessened since Zimbardo's prison experiment had shown that few can resist the powerful situational pressures of a prison. The judge apparently disagreed and gave Chip the maximum sentence. Zimbardo is currently working on a book about the connection between Abu Ghraib and the prison experiments for a popular audience.

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