The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
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The definitive firsthand account of the groundbreaking research of Philip Zimbardo—the basis for the award-winning film The Stanford Prison Experiment
Renowned social psychologist and creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo explores the mechanisms that make good people do bad things, how moral people can be seduced into acting immorally, and what this says about the line separating good from evil.
The Lucifer Effect explains how—and the myriad reasons why—we are all susceptible to the lure of “the dark side.” Drawing on examples from history as well as his own trailblazing research, Zimbardo details how situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make monsters out of decent men and women.
Here, for the first time and in detail, Zimbardo tells the full story of the Stanford Prison Experiment, the landmark study in which a group of college-student volunteers was randomly divided into “guards” and “inmates” and then placed in a mock prison environment. Within a week the study was abandoned, as ordinary college students were transformed into either brutal, sadistic guards or emotionally broken prisoners.
By illuminating the psychological causes behind such disturbing metamorphoses, Zimbardo enables us to better understand a variety of harrowing phenomena, from corporate malfeasance to organized genocide to how once upstanding American soldiers came to abuse and torture Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib. He replaces the long-held notion of the “bad apple” with that of the “bad barrel”—the idea that the social setting and the system contaminate the individual, rather than the other way around.
This is a book that dares to hold a mirror up to mankind, showing us that we might not be who we think we are. While forcing us to reexamine what we are capable of doing when caught up in the crucible of behavioral dynamics, though, Zimbardo also offers hope. We are capable of resisting evil, he argues, and can even teach ourselves to act heroically. Like Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, The Lucifer Effect is a shocking, engrossing study that will change the way we view human behavior.
Praise for The Lucifer Effect
“The Lucifer Effect will change forever the way you think about why we behave the way we do—and, in particular, about the human potential for evil. This is a disturbing book, but one that has never been more necessary.”—Malcolm Gladwell
“An important book . . . All politicians and social commentators . . . should read this.”—The Times (London)
“Powerful . . . an extraordinarily valuable addition to the literature of the psychology of violence or ‘evil.’”—The American Prospect
“Penetrating . . . Combining a dense but readable and often engrossing exposition of social psychology research with an impassioned moral seriousness, Zimbardo challenges readers to look beyond glib denunciations of evil-doers and ponder our collective responsibility for the world’s ills.”—Publishers Weekly
“A sprawling discussion . . . Zimbardo couples a thorough narrative of the Stanford Prison Experiment with an analysis of the social dynamics of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.”—Booklist
“Zimbardo bottled evil in a laboratory. The lessons he learned show us our dark nature but also fill us with hope if we heed their counsel. The Lucifer Effect reads like a novel.”—Anthony Pratkanis, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology, University of California
From the Hardcover edition.
were a prisoner suffering in this setting. If you were a prisoner in our jail, who would you have wanted as your supporter? W h o might have pressed the "Exit" button for you if you were unable to press it your- self? Would it have been the Catholic priest/prison chaplain when he saw you cry- ing? Not a chance. How about your mom and pop. friends, family? Wouldn't they intervene after they noticed that your condition was deteriorating? None ever did. Maybe help would have come from one of
the energizing sense of one's domination and control over others at that moment in time. Investigating Social D y n a m i c s 3 0 1 This basic paradigm has been repeated with comparable results in a host of laboratory and field studies, using deindividuating masks, administering white noise, or throwing Styrofoam balls at the target victims, and with military per- sonnel from the Belgian Army as well as with schoolchildren and a variety of col- lege students. Similar escalations of shock
the porn videos it made available.52 Soldiers were invited also to ex- change war zone photos for the same free access to porn, and many did. A "gore" warning was put on some of those images, such as the one of a group of Ameri- can soldiers smiling and giving high fives in front of the burned remains of an Iraqi, with the caption "Burn Baby Burn." Trophy Photos from O t h e r Eras Such images are reminiscent of the "trophy photos" of black men and women being lynched or burned alive in
situational and environmental contribu- tors to the abuses at Abu Ghraib; they also identify many systemic and structural contributors to those abuses. However, because top military brass or the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, commissioned them, the authors of these dozen re- ports stop short of attributing blame to higher levels in the chain of command. For a clearer focus on that bigger picture, we leave this evidentiary founda- tion for our case and turn next to a recent report
his third star because his legacy has been tarnished by allegations of his direct role in torture and abuse in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo prisons, accord- ing to military and congressional sources. 4 0 . General Myers's statement about his continuing to blame only the MP "bad apples" for all the Abu Ghraib abuses, while ignoring or dismissing all the evidence from the many inde- pendent investigations that reveal extensive complicity by senior officers and many sys- temic failures indicates