Imagine meeting your favourite celebrity for a day and hearing about their career directly from the source – a dream come true, right? Well, for students passionate about psychological experiments, the Zimbardo conference might have been the absolute highlight of the year. The event took place between 19th-22nd March at the Emmanuel Centre in London – a place where, during almost 5 hours of talks, famous psychologists would discuss the human mind, the good and the evil.

The event was aimed at students in year 12 and 13 studying Psychology A-level, therefore the conference was somehow moulded on the areas of interests present in the specification, as well as what would be called ‘extra-curricular’.

The first speaker was Phil Banyard, Reader in Psychology at Nottingham Trent University, who talked about whether psychology can change the world – a subject that, as difficult as it may seem, was discussed wittily, to the delight of the audience.

Next up was Cara Flanagan, a highly-published A-level book writer, who delivered a very interesting and informative talk on the debate on nature versus nurture –in other words, to what extent are we just determined by genes or by our environment.

The last speaker before the famous Zimbardo couple was Professor Sergio della Sala, whose controversially-named speech, ‘Neurobollocks’, was focussed on the divergences between what neuroscientists and psychologists think and how this information is portrayed to the wider public.

After the lunch break, the audience was delighted at the sight of Dr. Philip Zimbardo and his wife, Dr. Christina Maslach. Dr Zimbardo is a famous psychologist, best known for his notoriously controversial Stanford Prison Experiment carried out in 1971, in which he observed college students that played the roles of either guards or prisoners change their behaviour. The study was stopped after only 6 days due to the abrupt course of the experiment. Dr Zimbardo also talked about the Abu Ghraib atrocities, Stanley Milgram’s obedience studies and other important aspects of the ‘psychology of evil’. This has led to him thinking about his journey from ‘creating evil to encouraging heroism’, as promoted by his new Heroic Project, an international programme meant to promote being a hero in your everyday life and making a change within society.

His wife, Dr Christina Maslach, also an expert in Psychology and the woman who stopped the Stanford experiment, talked about how this experience has inspired her to carry out research regarding burnout in the workplace and also in society.

One of the most interesting parts of the conference was the Q&A session, where students and teachers had the chance to get answers to their burning dilemmas regarding the Stanford Prison Experiment, its film adaptation and many more.

James Pockett, student in year 12 at Oriel High School, was very impressed with the whole event: ‘I found the experience very helpful – Zimbardo answered everyone’s questions in a lot of depth and all the concepts were explained very clearly. I would definitely recommend this conference to any A level student studying Psychology!’.