Stanford Prison Experiment


I jumped on to this site because I was obsessed with finding the BEST deal. I had been raised to NOT TRUST dealerships, never let them get one over on you. I finally had a dealer interaction where I felt like I won, and joined Leasehackr to gloat about it. I said to myself: “wow, here’s a place that systemetizes beating the dealership. F those dealers, I love this forum.”

…Then I switched over to the Broker side. Through this, I got to know many dealership employees. And I saw that really, the dealer employees are no different from the customers. Some are real jerks, but some are just regular people trying to make an honest living off fair deals.

Then, I thought again, about the Customers. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know hundreds of You over text message. Most are just regular people trying to get a fair deal on a car that meets their needs. But, in the swarm of regular people, there were a few big jerks.

And so… I had this revelation. All of this projection that I read on this site: about Good vs Evil, about Hostage situations, about STEALERSHIPS, about squeezing people for Max Dealer Profit, or Dealer Loss; it’s not about Taking Sides. Dealership employees aren’t implicitly evil, and customers aren’t implicitly always right.

What we have in Customer/Dealership interactions, are just two strangers coming together, already cast into their roles. Anyone could walk into a dealership and either ask for a job, or try to buy a car. Their casting decision, combined with who they really are, is what defines the hostility (or lack thereof) in a given car purchase transaction.

What I’ve learned, is that if you’re an overgeneralizing asshole customer: you’ll say things like “The customer is always right” when you’re begging the dealer to go lower. If you’re an overgeneralizing asshole dealer employee: you’ll say things like “the house always wins” or “buyers are liars” when you’re a salesman and a customer is trying to buy a car from you.

If you’re a thirsty customer, you’ll nibble for free floor mats after shaking hands on a deal. If you’re a thirsty dealer, you’ll nibble for that Tire and Wheel or Key Replacement after shaking hands on a deal.

If you LIKE the idea of hostage situation, it doesn’t matter which side of the table you’re sitting on. Either side can make it happen.

Tl~dr: There is a direct analog of a “bad customer behavior” for every “bad dealer behavior” that you can think of.

If you actually sit down and Watch the Stanford Prison Experiment, you’ll realize that the Dealer/Customer interaction is the same as Guard/Prisoner. The preconceived notion of the environment, the roles we’re cast into, and Who We Are predetermine how We will behave in a Prison Cell, or in a Showroom.

As a customer, when you go to a dealership, do you have your guard up?

Now, imagine working in a place where every person you meet, has their guard up and doesn’t trust you.

It might change how you treat new customers: just as how a Novice prison guard may go easier on the Prisoners in the beginning. With time, a once “nice-guy” Guard becomes jaded by the Prisoner’s antics and may resort to more extreme discipline measures. Is the guard a bad guy? Are the prisoners bad?

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Interesting to see this pop up as the director was a friend of mine growing up. Good movie. With that said, the experiment itself has been fairly debunked as not being valid:

With that said, your point has merit.

I think one of the major issues is that people fail to recognize that a dealer/customer interaction is adversarial… and that’s ok.

The dealer’s job is to maximize profit. Of course it is, why wouldn’t it be? Now, that doesn’t have to mean gross profit on every deal, but their job is to make as much money as they can… and that’s ok.

The customer’s job is to minimize cost; be it financial or effort… and that’s ok.

The issue is when people start to take that personally or act in bad faith.

It amazes me how many people get an offer from a dealer that is in the dealer’s favor (because why wouldn’t it be?) and get personally insulted by it. That’s not the dealer’s fault; that’s the customer’s fault for having unreasonable expectations that someone is going to act in the customer’s favor rather than their own. Likewise, I’ve seen dealers outraged over low offers. It’s the same thing.

Now, there is another side to this, which is the dealership environment is designed to put the customer at a disadvantage. There’s a monopoly on information, interactions are specifically tailored to get a desired output, etc. The prison guard/prisoner interaction can only occur if there’s a prison with one group put in an advantageous position to start with.

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Interesting topic. I think a lot of buyers are on edge when walking into a dealer because its ingrained. I agree, 100% dealers exist to make money, so when they throw out a $900 mo lease on a Honda Pilot don’t be offended, its capitalism! If 5% of people accept the first dealer offer with no push back, then hey I say go for it! Buyer beware. If you walk into a dealer with no research I hate to say you deserve it but…
Ditto for buyers who are after rock bottom payment, don’t expect outstanding service and every dealer to say yes either. A good negotiation is when both side are happy. Buyers need to understand the dealer cannot do loans for free all the time. They are a business that needs to make money to pay rent, utilities, employees etc.

I don’t know whether or not I was a nice customer in the past. But after a large number of interactions with salespeople and dealerships, I have my guard up.

My advice is smile. And don’t take your hand off your wallet

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$5 says this devolves into yet another “who’s worse, dealers or customers?” thread.


I’ll take your bet.

I haven’t seen any disagreement here yet, so hopefully there is nothing to devolve. That’s really my point, and you’ve echoed it as well. The environment, like a Prison, is set up to put Regular People on opposite sides. Deep down, we are all just people. The “Sides” are a construct of your mind: and anyone that says one side is objectively worse than the other just hasn’t met their foil yet.

As this Community grows and evolves, it’s my hope that we can all take a more mature understanding of the situation, and generally discourage nasty tactics on all sides, through a mutual understanding and compassion for the human condition.

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There’s two ways to approach this… you can either say “there shouldn’t be sides, let’s all be friends” or we can be realistic and say “there are two sides. There will always be two sides. So understand it, deal with it, and act accordingly.”

I agree that shady behavior should be discouraged on all sides, but beyond that, it’s business.

As an example, I see dealers/salesmen post stuff all the time like “hey, we’ve got bills to pay too! You gotta leave some money on the table so that I can pay my water bills!” I could not care less. That’s not because I’m not empathetic to the need to take care of own’s obligations, but it’s because the payment and incentive structure of the business is none of my business. How a dealership distributes their profits, what their business model is, etc, is not my concern. My goal is to get to the lowest price I can that a dealer will agree, because it’s still beneficial for them to move forward with the transaction. If the transaction doesn’t make business sense, that’s cool, just say no. No one is forcing anyone into it.

Instead what I hear when someone says something like “I’ve gotta pay my bills too!” is someone trying to manipulate me into conceding to a higher price by playing to my emotions. It isn’t a genuine statement, it’s a sales tactic. And that’s fine; I don’t get mad at that.

Negotiating a deal is a game; everyone is going to try to do what they can to win. As long as everyone plays ethically, then it’s up to you to position yourself for success. Unethical behavior should be excoriated everywhere possible.

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So What is “ethical” , in a time and culture where in any Game, winning is the only thing and 2 sides are winner / loser

This is what I’m talking about avoiding. You’re generalizing about dealers/salesmen by cherry-picking a specific example.

The core of the question: “Which is worse: Dealers or Customers?” is the same core questions as “Which is worse: Prisoners or Prison Guards?”

Yes, of course, the most professional salesman wouldn’t go to a cheesy “man I gotta pay my bills line”, but not every salesman you meet is a great one. Same goes for the Customers they meet.

In Orange is the New Black, one guard is particularly worse than the others. Of course, That Guard going to be the example that the Prisoners use when they want to rile up hate against the Other Guards. They’re not going to pick examples of the guards that have a family at home and are just here to get a paycheck as peacefully as possible. They’ll pick the example that smuggled in drugs, or something worse.

This thread only Devolves, if people start chiming in with the examples of “one time a dealer did this to me” or “another time a Customer did that to me”. Moderators, please lead by example and don’t cherry pick Specific Conversations you had with Specific Salespeople to justify that “negotiating a deal is a game”.

What happens when you meet the salesguy that is super serious and doesn’t treat it as a game, but as his livelihood? Do you adjust your expectations to make things better, or do you just assume you’re in Prison now and this is how it’s done here?

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You don’t need to go far to read the ‘Stanford Prison Experiment’ to see it here right on the LH forums?

C : Ask a question
LH : Answer
C : Ask another question which is really the first question restated
LH : Answers same answer
C : Asks more questions which are because they forgot to ask in the first question.
LH : Answers with same answer
C : Asks another question which is really because they don’t like the LH Answer
LH : Starts bot answer with the ‘Did you check Edmunds’.
C2 : Asks a question
LH : Starts bot answer with the ‘Did you check Edmunds’.
C3 : Asks a different question about do you like my deal.
LH : Starts bot answer with the ‘Did you check Edmunds’.

It’s just ennui? Because the questions are just so mind numbing, even people here don’t want to answer them anymore.

Secret Hackr Factr: If you trade in two cars with negative equity it becomes positive because double-negative.


I think you’ve totally missed my point. What I’m trying to get at is that those “games” aren’t inherently bad or good. It’s just a strategy that people take. If one recognizes such actions as a strategy that the salesman is utilizing in playing the game rather than taking it as a personal attack, then we are in a better place.

Negotiation is either a game or a battle. By treating it as a game, there’s an opportunity to ingrain some sportsmanship. To me, that sounds like the crux of what you’re trying to highlight.

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The issue there is that people don’t ask the questions they’re trying to ask. What they’re trying to say is usually either “do all the work for me and tell me what a good deal is” or “validate my unprepared actions and make me feel better about myself”.

This was a great TED talk.


The unfortunate fact is that the dealership model is what creates this scenario in the first place. I think that most people just want to buy (or lease) a car. As long as they are getting transparency and professionalism in return, they’re good. They also don’t want to feel like they need to take a shower after leaving the dealership.

I also think that many dealerships nowadays are pretty good and want to avoid those stereotypes they have been plagued with, especially in the current environment where customer feedback is often crucial to their revenue via surveys, etc. You’re not going to solve anything here unless you A) Eliminate the dealership model in it’s entirety or B) Totally Eliminate every single bad actor that propagates the negative stereotypes about the business.

The bad dealers are the ones that people hear about and create negative expectations in their minds before they even reach out for a quote. They go into things expecting the worst, or automatically thinking they are being lied to, even if that’s decidedly not the case.

I’ve interacted with enough dealers over the years now to know pretty quickly which type of dealer I am interacting with. The bad ones live in a world of their own, they are almost like carnies with their own language and code. You can have them nailed dead to rights on a hundred different lies, misstatements or just ignorance and they will not break character to speak to you like a normal person trying to complete a business transaction. By comparison even the middling and “no haggle” places are a breath of fresh air to most people. Perhaps the LH mentality can cause some people to gird their loins to go into battle against a dealer, but as we can see from the bad deals we see here many people just accept what the dealer gives them without much of a fight.


This is a defense mechanism that bad and self-centered customers tell themselves when they know they’re going to be a pain in the ass and waste a salesperson’s time.

“It’s not personal” - the customer will say, after hours of building rapport and getting the salesguy’s hopes up for a payday.

Unfortunately, the system is rigged against the salesperson, it is personal because that’s how it is set up by the dealer structure.

The bad customer doesn’t want it to be personal, because they don’t want to think of themselves as a “bad guy”. So they tell themselves that it’s not personal, that they don’t care about the salesman’s feelings, and that it’s all just game. They want to think of the dealership as a robot or a machine.

But, the dealership saw your thought process coming, and thought one step ahead, They put a person in front of you: now you have to ruin some guy’s day (or at least hour) to win your little game. It would be easier for you to think of the dealership as a robot, which is why the salesguy has a job to begin with.

I literally professionally mediate actual business transaction between Car Buyers and Car Dealers.

The moderators and top non-industry contributors on this site, by definition, are literally not allowed to be dealers or brokers.
Their perspective is absolutely warped, becauase they’re not financially invested in any(*) of the car deals they comment on.

Car leasing IS literally a game or battle to people that post about it here, but the people that use those words aren’t actually the buyer or the seller. It’s only a game to the absolute minority of worst-case customers, the vocal minority. People that comment on other people’s car deals as a hobby do not make up any meaningful percentage of the market. And vocal minorities can often be the greatest source of toxicity. Don’t kid yourself, this forum very much IS part of WHY you experience hostility in car dealerships.

For the majority of the marketplace, it’s not a game. Most customers just need a car. Most dealer employees just need to pay their bills. The “it’s a game customers” are the bane of the Car Sales industry’s existence.

The vast majority of posts on this site come from people that are involved in <20 car deals per year. The professionals on this site that do hundreds of car deals per year are policed by Moderators, giving bad advice - encouraging the output of Internet Trolling to manifest itself in real life on some poor salesperson.

If you tell regular people that just want a car that IT IS A GAME, rest assured, you are CREATING the “Buyers are Liars” culture, and giving bad dealers that opportunity to stay alive.

*I’ll define “any” as having Financial stake in 20 car deals per year. If you’re doing <20/yr, you’re a hobbyist and you don’t have enough data points to know how real customers materialize car buying day-to-day.


but isn’t that exactly how dealing a car goes?
C: Gimme the Best Deal
D: Here’s out best Deal
C: Gimme a Better Deal
D: I took some money off, here’s a better Deal
C: Gimme a Better Deal
D: I just sold a Kidney to make up the loss , here’s a better Deal
C: Gimme a Better Deal
D: Did you do your work on what’s a good deal? Here’s a deal.
C: Gimme a Better Deal
D: Did you do your work on what’s a good deal? Here’s a deal. (Bot Answer)
C: I’m leaving!
D: Did you do your work on what’s a good deal? Here’s a deal. (Bot Answer)

same thing , people or dealers don’t want to work very hard to save / make money.
Dealers - Don’t want to Work because they lose money.
Customers - Don’t want to work because it’s too hard. Much easier to just go up to you and keep asking until they get the answer they want.

So some posters on LH are , is this a good deal? Instead of saying Yes or No, the Bot answer comes out because the bot answer is really the best answer but the Customer doesn’t understand that or doesn’t want to ‘work’ to get their validation.

…and THAT is the beautiful thing about LeaseHackr.
That’s how dealing a car used to go!

Now, you get people like me, that just want to cut all this crap.
I list super low prices with everything disclosed, best foot forward, on the public Internet.

Now that we live in the future, the whole process of going back/forward can be skipped!

But the customers need to give up on the games just as much as the dealers do.
We can’t control every customer everywhere, but we can change and improve the attitude of the people here, on this site!

That’s why I raised the Stanford Prison Experiment today. I want to raise awareness that some of us are doing everything we can to move the industry forward, but it will also take this community putting their best foot forward to reduce toxicity industry-wide.

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We’re arguing past each other discussing totally different things.

I’m not saying “it’s a game” as an excuse to play around with people. I’m saying it’s a game because it’s two parties with competing priorities jockeying for position.

The “buyers are liars” people and the “dealership are assholes” people are the ones that are saying “no, this is a battle” and take the other party not bending to their will as a personal attack.

It being a game is an improvement.

After reading the OP and following posts several times, I still have a hard time finding more than an extremely loose correlation between the study and the car buying experience