I heard about this during a discussion at lunch today (it was an aside during a discussion about criminals) and went searching for more information.
The Stanford Prison Experiment: A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment is truly fascinating. Take a group of men, split them and make half guards, half prisoners then observe they way they react.
What is even more interesting is how their family and even the scientists conducting the experiment, unwittingly start playing out their role. The parents, when visiting their sons complain about the conditions and hope something will be done about it, the scientists start thinking more like prison governors than social psychologists.
Of course this has triggered off many thoughts about how I would act in a similar situation.
How would you react? What kind of prisoner would you be? What kind of guard?