Twenty-four clinically sane individuals were randomly assigned to be "prisoners" or "guards" in a mock dungeon located in the basement of the psychology building at Stanford. Three additional college students were selected as alternates. The planned two-week study into the psychology of prison life ended after only six days due to the emotional trauma experienced by the participants. The students quickly began acting out their roles, with "guards" becoming sadistic and "prisoners" showing extreme passivity and depression.
I grew up in Palo Alto, and attended both Stanford and Stanford Law School, but I was long gone by 1971. Thus, I didn't get to participate in Zimbardo's experiment, so I don't know whether I would have succumbed to the pressures experienced by the participants. I was also not in the right place, at the right time, to take part in what I have just recently learned was another controversial social/psychological experiment carried out in my home town. This one was carried out in 1967 by Ron Jones, a high school teacher at Cubberly High School (the high school in Palo Alto that I did NOT attend):
The notorious Third Wave project [was] ... designed by Cubberly High teacher Ron Jones to teach his well-heeled Palo Alto pupils ... about the roots of fascism. The project implemented many of the same educational tools and persuasive tactics implemented by groups such as the Nazi party. The overall concept was to show how susceptible most groups can be to crafty indoctrination. The project was a “success." The students started out as a cooperative until informers were assigned by Jones. As members are recruited and trials were held, even non-informants quickly turned on other members in their quest to ace the assignment.
Now that we know we can turn ourselves into Nazis, let's see what else we might be capable of.