The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
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What makes good people do bad things? How can moral people be seduced to act immorally? Where is the line separating good from evil, and who is in danger of crossing it?

Renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo has the answers, and in The Lucifer Effect he 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.

Zimbardo is perhaps best known as the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here, for the first time and in detail, he tells the full story of this 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.


From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Sulpheric!
    I'm evil, and I've been that way all my life. Frankly, it's a heckuva' a lot of fun - you have a lot more sex and make a lot more money and the meek move out of your way like the scurrying cockroaches that they are - so to all you good people who've come to the dark side, I can only say, "welcome aboard!" ...more info
  • Not Scholarly At All
    We have to look no further than the title to conclude this. The study of good and evil is a study of Theology and should be left to sons of God not Psychologists or at the least not those who don't know the origination of evil. Lucifer is the English translation of a Hebrew word meaning "light bearer" or "O glowing morning star" as referenced in Isaiah in an apparent reference to Canaanite mythology. The word lucifer was simply a metaphor for the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar II. It was the evil of Babylonia and its king that was the caused of both their destruction. How did he become evil? The King said in his heart, "I will ascend to the heavens; higher than the stars of God and so on. Its obvious how a connection was made (erroneously) between the word lucifer and the Office of the Satan but thats not important. What's important is what Christ said, " For from the heart come out evil thoughts, such as fornication, murder, adultery, theft, false witness and blasphemy. It is in the heart where we must confront this notion of evil and it is in the heart where it can be solved. Within the heart, human beings meet God"s word and thus it is the location where conversation takes place.

    We need more conversation with God.

    At issue isn't bad apples(people) nor is it bad barrels(situations)as the book states, it's the heart(the place where God dwells) of the apples.

    This book should have been titled, The Nebuchadnezzar II Effect. Of course you would have to change the subject matter....more info
  • behaviorism
    If people understood the principles of reinforcement and punishment, there should be no surprise that people can be taught new behaviors in a short amount of time. The more important thing is how to change these innapropriate behaviors on a large scale....more info
  • didn't finish reading yet
    It is good so far. I just dont like that there now is another book titled "Why good people do bad things." I guess I'll have to read that also....more info
  • A deeply flawed argument: Emerging evidence behind the Stanford Prison Study
    There is no problem in making the argument that it is possible for "good people" to commit evil actions. There is much research evidence, particular from the study of the psychology of genocide, to support this argument. There is a huge problem, however, with using the Stanford Prison Study as evidence to support this argument.
    As a brief illustration, while Zimbardo claims that "the power of the situation was stronger than that of the individual" in the prison study, there is much evidence to suggest that the manner in which people behaved can be traced directly to their personalities. For example, it takes a certain kind of person to sign up for a 2 week simulation study of "prison life" in the first place. We even have experimental evidence to back up this logical assumption (see Carnahan & McFarland, 2007 in Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin). People who sign up for a prison study are likely higher in aggressiveness, authoritarianism, machiavellianism, narcicissm, and social dominance, and lower on empathy and altruism. The 24 who were invited to participate in the study were not randomly selected from the 75 who signed up. The 12 invited to be prisoners did not last the full 6 days either - what is more, those who stayed in scored more than 4 times as high on authoritarianism as those who dropped out (correlation of .90!!!).
    Ultimately though, with heaps of methodological problems (including experimenter interference, no clear hypotheses, no control group - hence not the Stanford Prison "Experiment" but the Stanford Prison Study) the SPS does not tell us about the power of the situation. It tells us much more about the power of personality. Remember Zimbardo describing the participants: "there were 3 kinds of guards (sadistic, obedient, lenient) and 3 kinds of prisoners (those who resisted or fought back, obedient ones, and those who broke down)." More evidence of different personalities reacting differently in the same situation.
    Zimbardo has done some good research, but this is not it. Sadly this is what he chooses to keep talking about. Very sad that a leading figure in social psychology continues to write and talk about a very, very faulty conclusion. One really has to suspend all critical thinking to accept his conclusions.
    Other references that might help include Reicher & Haslam's BBC prison study, as well as Zimbardo's own 1972 publication (which lists that correlation of .90)....more info
  • Very Happy
    It's very likely a book that some of our leaders aren't ready for, but hurray to Zimbardo for writing it. I think it should be required reading for anyone who wants to work in the area of law enforcement, especially corrections. I also appreciate Zimbardo's website and the advice it contains....more info
  • Making amends
    Zimbardo seems never to have gotten over the abuse he inflicted on a group of unsuspecting Stanford students forty years ago, who, for a little bit of money, played out the roles of prisoners, prison guard, largely emulating behaviors they had learned from movies of the time. Curiously, no one at the time appears to have challenged Zimbardo's experiment design which had him both participate in the experiment (as prison superintendent) while also directing the experiment. Amazed that in assuming a role he could easily be led to behaviors that were contrary to his normal beliefs, he has spent the rest of his life obsessing about this experiemt, and, in the process, deriving a considerable fortune from his mistakes. ...more info
  • The Lucifer Effect
    The author did a good job of convincing me that good people can become evil when in an evil environment. Putting the system on trial was okay but I had to struggle to finish the book....more info
  • Captivating

    Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment from the early 70's used college students for a study, making half of them prisoners and the other half guards. With instructions meant to polarize, the worst in human nature quickly came out, and the experiment had to be discontinued prematurely. Unlike other important studies, this one could not be duplicated because of ethical concerns, but many similar studies have been done - most of them validating Zimbardo's result: that with few exceptions, the best of us can be coerced to perform evil acts under the right social circumstances. A book about Zimbardo's findings is long overdue. The incident at Abu Ghraib and his participation in the trial sparked his enthusiasm to share this story with us.

    Chapter I - According to the story in the Bible, Lucifer, God's favorite angel, challenged God's authority - thus began the transformation of Lucifer into Satan. Zimbardo finds here an analogy to the situation in all wars, where men routinely justify being inhumane to other men, despite clear direction otherwise from the Geneva Convention.

    Chapters II - IX - Zimbardo had 24-hour audio and video surveillance of the prison and kept meticulous written notes. He presents verbatim transcripts of tense conversation and photographs. A variety of situations from world history are presented showing disturbing descriptions of torture, rape, and general abuse of a captured, helpless enemy. He then draws analogies between real history and the Stanford prison experiment.

    Chapters X - XI - Elaboration on the importance, ethical considerations, and notoriety of the Stanford prison experiment. If you Google "experiment," the first website listed is this one, out of a potential 300 million.

    Chapters XII - XIII - How powerful social pressures can cause good people to do bad things - nuts and bolts of evolutionary psychology, social theory, and recent applicable research. Humans are essentially social. Creating semi-permanent networks and hierarchies of interaction is what people do and it is more than just a strategy for survival. The "us versus them" mentality evolved for and worked well for hunter-gatherers - nowadays we could and should do better.

    Chapter XIV - Application of the findings of the Stanford prison experiment to Abu Ghraib. The author was an expert witness for previously highly-honored Sergeant Frederick, one of the defendants. He describes the situation that ended in abuse, from the permissive attitudes starting at the top (Rumsfeld advocating a "take the gloves off" approach to detainees) to 40 straight nights of 12-hour shifts.

    Chapter XV - The military command and the Bush administration are portrayed as accomplices for their widespread reliance on torture-interrogation, well-documented by independent sources. In the new leadership at Abu Ghraib, the DVD of the Stanford prison experiment has been used to warn the new guards about the group-think hazards that are inherent in the prisoner-guard relationship.

    Chapter XVI - Some people do not yield to the power of social influence. The author outlines a program intended to build resistance to mind-control strategies. Ordinary people may become heroes simply by doing the right thing.

    For those willing to consider the bad as well as the good aspects of human nature, a must-read.


    ...more info
  • Illuminating, but Flawed
    While this book did an excellent job of detailing several lines of experimentation that culminate in the hypothesis that the Situation and the System are at least as responsible for acts of barbarity such as those that occurred at Abu Ghraib as the perverse impulses of the Individual, it never really substantiates it.

    It attempts to use two things as proof. First, laboratory experiments wherein he (and others) tested the behavior of research participants. It has been demonstrated that the people who self-select for psychological research are not entirely representative of the populations which they are intended to represent. They tend to be more extroverted, intelligent, curious, and interested in the findings of science. While it is impossible to remove this bias, it should at least be acknowledged. Particularly when Dr. Zimbardo mentions that the participants in Dr. Milgram's classical research were willing to perform truly stunning actions in the name of science because they are following directions. The second is the actions carried out by soldiers and civilians in times of war (ranging from the Hutu's and Tutsi's to the archetypal Nazi torturers, to the abuses (or tortures) at Abu Ghraib. Again, with the exceptions of the cited incidents involving the Polish and African civilians, we have a group of self-selected invdividuals whose characteristics vary from that of the general population.

    As other reviewers have pointed out, the political tone in this book is more than a little slanted. It is unclear whether his distaste for (and attempted conviction of) the administration is a result of his preexisting bias (if any), his perception of their role in sponsoring abusive treatment of enemy combatants, or his (admitted!) frustration in being unable to help Ivan Frederik. In any case, it becomes quite vitriolic at times, although it seems well founded enough in general. (Certain exceptions do exist, such as on pg. 435, where it is written: "The evidence is circumstantial, but it is convincing. For example, in his book 'State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration', James Risen concludes that there is 'a secret agreement among very senior administration officials to insulate Bush and to give him deniability' in regard to the CIA's involvement in the extreme new interrogation tactics." While there is a footnote, it provides no further information. A statement like this is not evidence, circumstantial or otherwise. It, at best, qualifies as hearsay without some sort of established expertise on the behalf of James Risen, about whom we are told nothing. We are also not provided anything in the way of proof of his point of view.)

    These were merely side notes, however, to the main ring spectacle of Dr. Zimbardo's dance of trying to excuse behaviors without exercising what he calls "excusiology." The dictionary defines excuse as: to regard or judge with forgiveness or indulgence; pardon or forgive; seek to remove the blame of; to serve as an apology or justification for; to justify. With this in mind, Dr. Zimbardo extensively (at least four times) states that understanding of how the System and the Situation drive the Individual to extremes of behavior in no way excuse the behavior of those who do these things. This is in keeping with the decisions of the world to try Nazi war criminals in a fashion that is consistent with the human desire for justice. We don't CARE if you were ordered to kill thousands, you should have used your own sense of right and wrong and chosen not to follow that order.

    In the case of those at Abu Ghraib, they were not even following explicit orders that we are aware of. Rather, they were operating in ambiguity. They weren't sure what they were told to do. Rather, they interpreted their orders to include the abuse (or torture) of those whom they were intended to guard (and perhaps to abuse). Regardless of this ambiguity, if even EXPLICIT orders are to be disregarded if they are immoral, then how much moreso should this rule apply when the directives are so unclear? Regardless of this, on pg. 439, we are treated to the following:

    "Do you now believe that the mistreatment of detainees in Abu Ghraib's Tier 1A by Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick and the other MPs on night duty was an aberration, an isolated incident caused solely by a few 'bad apples', allegedly 'rogue soldiers'?
    Further, do you now believe that such abuse and torture was or was not part of a 'systematic' program of coercive interrogation? Did the extent of the abuses and torture in these interrogations go far deeper and well beyond the limited time, place, and set of actors in the Abu Ghraib Tier 1A night shift?
    Given the acknowledged guilt of those MPs charged with the photographed abuses, do you now believe that there WERE SUFFICIENT SITUATIONAL FORCES (a 'bad barrel') AND SYSTEM PRESSURES ('bad barrel makers') ACTING ON THEM THAT SHOULD HAVE MITIGATED THE EXTENT OF THEIR PRISON SENTENCES?" (emphasis mine)

    For those of you who might want to check: The dictionary definition of mitigate: to lessen in force or intensity; to make less severe. It is clear that he thinks that they have an excuse for their actions, and that others bear the blame as well. I share half of that opinion.

    It is frustrating to hear someone in a position of responsibility talk two different stories out of two different sides of their mouth. To say that there is no excuse, and then to say that, "Well, in THIS case, there is one," is demeaning to our intelligence as your readers, Dr. Zimbardo. And it annoys.

    Other than this major, annoying, glaring flaw in the text, it does a wonderful job of trying to bridge two unconnected ideas, which is what scientific meta-analysis is all about. With the caveat that people read this review, I strongly recommend this book. If the author had not lost his credibility in not serving to allow "excusiology", it would have received five stars from me. Read this, then read it. A good book.

    Harkius...more info
  • Interesting Story Book Worth Reading
    Initially I bought the book thinking it was a pop-psychology book offering analysis and explanations on why good people turn evil. However, this book turns out to be, in my opinion, more of a story-telling book than a pop-science book. And it is a very addictive story book, taking the reader through one of the most well-known psychological study (Stanford Prison Experiment) to a modern world shaping event (Abu Ghraib scandal), with various analysis and other experiments mentioned along the way. It gives you the insights to human psychology, as well as the mind of the author - the experimenter of the Standford Prison Experiment and expert witness for the Abu Ghraib scandal....more info
  • lucifer efect
    It's a reflection about the ature of evil. It`s a reflection since social psychology. The description of Stanford prision experiment is frightening. The weakness I founjd is that doesn't establish the limits of personal responsabily clear enough. The conclusions to avoid to become tools of evil lack more realism....more info
  • My First Psychology Book
    Well, i can't say that my reason for buying this book is the most convincing. However, going on a 10-hours flight requires a good book to read. And Zimbardo doesn't disappoint. My girl friend majored in Psychology, so this book serves on many levels.

    Its an easy read, and it really doesn't challenge those of us (me in particular) who have absolutely no background in psychology.

    The price is just right! the book with free shipment is less than 13$ which is 6$ less than the cheapest price i found in any bookstore. Even with shipment fees for standard shipment which was 16.24$ is still equal or less than most bookstores out there.

    One last thing not related directly to this book, is that the delivery was really fast. My order was placed on Sunday, Standard Shipment, and i recieved the package on Tuesday. Not bad at all!

    ...more info
  • Excellent
    Excellent. A punch in the face to anyone who thinks of him or herself as a good person....more info
  • Important Concept- Wished for a Better Presentation
    I could hardly wait to get my copy home and begin reading. I think this is one of the most important newer ideas in psychology. It is almost a knee jerk reflex to blame the individual and seldom does anyone examine the context within which the action took place to find how and why it took place. I think this probably is a brilliant step forward in accepting responsibility as a community, a nation, a group for the ill effects that it produces. However, as some of the other reviewers mentioned, this book loses it's focus time and again. It is bogged down in the details of the SPE and is clearly biased and ill informed when it discusses political events. I would like to point out that in the SPE Zimbardo fails to take into account his own unconscious assumptions and bias in influencing the outcome. Many times in his comments about particular participants he made judgments on their behavior which were more than a little biased. Nor does he accept that his own concepts about prison abuse went a long way towards producing the outcome. How different the study no doubt would have been had his girlfriend Christine been the author or even co-author.
    I look forward to watching the development of the concept of the 'bad barrel' as opposed to the 'bad apple' and expect the best work to come from someone with less bias. ...more info
  • It's in us all
    The Lucifer Effect is largely a book about the details of the Stanford Prison Experiment in which college students were enlisted to participate in an experiment testing human behavior in incarceration scenarios. This experiment in psychology, conducted by author Philip Zimbardo in 1970, is a widely cited landmark study which showed how a person's situational role is the most important factor determining how they will behave, more important than any predisposition they may have in their personality. Zimbardo's study showed that the environment brings out the evil latent in us all -- something that should disquiet everyone who believes that some people are simply born evil.

    Though I can't recall that he explicitly says so, it would seem that Zimbardo wrote this book in response to the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison which became public a few years ago. American officials frequently spun the story to promote the idea that prisoner torture was the handiwork of "a few bad apples." His experience and data with the Stanford Prison Experiment suggest that this is simply untrue. Rather, it was the high stress environment coupled with little to no training for the job at hand and unclear or conflicting directives from higher-ups that created the inevitable outcome. His argument is compelling and and substantial.

    Where the book diverges from its apparent purpose is in the last quarter where Zimbardo places members of the Bush administration "on trial" for what happened at Abu Ghraib. While I don't disagree with his assessment of the government's culpability, he allowed his scholarly analysis of the topic of human evil to turn into a political diatribe that might have been better suited to a separate volume....more info
  • Fascinating Study of Human Behavior
    This book provides an in-depth study of the Stanford Prison Experiment and of the factors that allowed the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, and ties them together neatly. Fascinating read for anyone interested in human behavior. The book got bogged down somewhat in its analysis of the politics that led to the abuses at Abu, but was overall an insightful study of how something like that can still happen. ...more info
  • Why good people do bad things.
    Philip Zimbardo's "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil" is an engaging look at (primarily) how prison systems can force good people to do bad things. Overall, the book is sympathetic; Zimbardo takes a psychologist's approach to things, and never fails to implicate himself in wrong-doings.

    What wrong-doings could there be? In 1971, Zimbardo was in charge of what has become known as the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE), where college students were given one of two roles: A prisoner or a prison guard. They were to hold this role (the prisoners day-in and day-out) for two weeks. The result: The guards began abusing their power, so much so that the experiment had to be called off after less than a week. Zimbardo gives a day-by-day account of the experiment. He then goes on to analyze the horrors of Abu Ghraib, where Army Reserve MPs needless tortured and humiliated prisoners. The comparison is understandable: Zimbardo was an expert witness for one of the guards, and, as he proudly points out, his SPE was even mentioned in one of the investigations into Abu Ghraib.

    "The Lucifer Effect" is at its strongest in the first half. Zimbardo is clearly a psychologist first and a writer second; but despite the repetition and sometimes awkward phrasing, his blow-by-blow account of the SPE is riveting and thought-provoking. The book meanders a bit near the end, as he goes on to condemn the Bush administration, and even steps out of the prison restrictions he has set himself, and looks at the Iraq conflict in general. It all ties in to a theme he has built himself--we should blame the System, and not the Person--but that premise could easily have provided material for another book. "The Lucifer Effect" is best when it is looking into the psychology of being a prison guard, of what people do when placed into such a situation. As such, it is an interesting, engaging insight into what makes a person "evil."...more info
  • JUNK SCIENCE
    None of the 'guards' had training or experiences as guards, and none of the 'prisoners' had any experiences as prisoners; everyone was acting how they imagined prisoners and guards should act.

    The book is a disappointment....more info
  • Finally the book
    Zimbardo forbidden experiment brought him fame and offered a look at the less proud dimensions on human nature. Humans are resitant to looking at this aspect of our capabilities. For the most part this is a correct tact for very few will be placed in circumstances where these inner forces will be called forward. However those few occasions happen at crucial junction and be come defining to individuals, groups or nations.

    His detailing of the experiment is numming and marginaly contributory to the point. I showed his film to my classes and found little in the book to add to the discussion. The issues he raises should make up the analysis of the news with its lust for revenue generating violence. Using a demon in the title is counter productive. Doing so infers an external causation of violence. Inhumane behavior is behavior by non-human beings yet we use the term for the cruel behavior of a person or persons.

    His information is paramount his delivery... ...more info
  • Capacity for angel and devil in humans
    Its a good scientific study of how people have both the capacity for angelic and demonic behavior. How we like to think that bad people or good people are so very different from most of us, but are not. It shares the thesis of novels like America's Keenest City. It is an interesting field.

    As the poster below asked, I too, have always wondered about the people who refused to behave badly in the two notorious experiments from that era. This and the Milgram.

    I think that would be an interesting study of itself. What gives some the courage to stand up to unrighteous authority. ...more info
  • Sticks and Stones...
    They can break your bones, but words can get you killed. Fascinating book by the psychologist who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment. He not only documents the prison experiment, he explains how normal, decent people can be manipulated by authority figures to commit pretty much any kind of evil act imaginable IF they think they will not be held responsible. He takes us all the way to the present abomination at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. All Dr. Zimbardo's research also correlates nicely with the Milgram experiments (although he doesn't use these findings in this book). Another interesting aspect of all this is that in schools, politics, the workplace (especially in the U.S.) and on the internet, character assasination has become the weapon of choice. A great book, but I hope Dr. Zimbardo continues to research this phenomenon in the future. It could change the world....more info
  • Overall, an interesting read
    The premise of this book is captivating, and I read it almost immediately after seeing Dr. Zimbardo on the Daily Show, where I learned of it. The first 2/3rds of this book are fascinating, particularly the account of the Stanford Prison Experiment and subsequent experiments regarding the human capacity for evil. I greatly admire Zimbardo, but the book is not what I expected.

    The first 66% of the book is psychological, and it seems to me that the last 33% is more historical and political. I started to lose interest during the analysis of Abu Ghraib because it was just repeating the concepts we had learned earlier in the book, and was no longer new and intriguing. The book was just way too long, period, to cover the same themes - deindividuization, dehumanization, etc., etc. I wanted more from this book than it delivered, but it was still worth reading....more info
  • Everyone should read this book
    The Lucifer Effect is painstakingly detailed, as well it should be. Many have heard about Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, and about many of the other studies he documents in The Lucifer Effect, but it's in the details and the attention to particulars that the case is made for what we should do about the truths revealed in these pages. If the book explains the banality of evil so that we cannot possibly walk away from it thinking that horrors are perpetuated simply by "bad people," then it also invites us to introspect deeply, as Persons and members of Systems and creators of Situations, on how to create the banality of heroism, so that we right the wrongs and fix the systems and create the healthier situations in which to live and raise a generation with tools to solve our most pressing challenges.

    As the president of the Institute for Humane Education, I'm requiring this book in our Master of Education and Humane Education Certificate Program. All future teachers and parents should read this book. Better yet, everyone should....more info
  • Not bad
    Upon first glance you can tell what Dr. Zimbargo set out to do. He wanted to write a book about the dark side in everyone, use examples from real life to illustrate his point and finally provide guidance on how to stay moral. His book however, falls slightly short of this vision.

    The main focus of this book is the Standfard Prison Experiment. This was a social psychology study that examined the effects of situational forces on the behaviours and actions of people. It's an interesting study and well worth the time to research on your own. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer many angles when trying to illuminate the dark side of people as a whole.

    After a thorough and often-times overly detailed account of this event Dr. Zimbargo offers some insight and explanations into his findings. I thought this was the best part of the book. These are Dr. Zimbargo's own thoughts on paper and they are interesting. Furthermore, he goes onto discuss other social psychology experiments (google "Milgram Experiments")that drew similar conclusions to his study. Unfortunately, this part is not very long.

    The next section of the book draws parallels between the Stanford Prison Experiment and the environment at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This part of the book is very dry. By page 300 you've been hit over the head so many times with the Stanford Prison Experiment that it loses its awe factor.

    Lastly, Dr. Zimbargo discusses how people can remain good in difficult situations. This part of the book is lacking.

    All and all its a decent book. I thought it would've been better if Dr. Zimbargo relied a little less on the Stanford Prison Experiment and a little more on other mediums to explain the impact of situational forces on people....more info
  • Understanding remains elusive...
    Dr. Zimbardo describes a strange and obviously dangerous experiment that he designed and conducted back in 1971 in a basement prison mock-up in Stanford's psychology department. Perhaps even more disturbing than the fact that this experiment was carried out in the first place is the excruciating detail in which the author apparently still remembers it three decades later. He seems convinced that the Stanford Prison Experiment was important and that it must have revealed something new and helpful about human nature. If he says what that is, I missed it.

    In place of insight, he merely offers up a simplistic classification system for the motivators to evil: "dispositional" and "situational" factors. In the former case, a man acts like a "bad apple" because of his bad core disposition. In the latter he is merely acting like any normal apple thrown into a bad situation... or a "bad barrel", as the author also puts it. Not exactly a new idea.

    Nearly half this book is spent in a needlessly detailed accounting of the 6 day experiment itself and the debriefing that followed it. He compares it with the accounts of real-life events in Rwanda, Nanking, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. Indeed, they are similar. But all we seem to learn from these comparisons is that good people can do bad things when thrown into bad situations; and I suppose that people with evil dispositions are likely to be bad regardless of the situation.

    Mostly, the book seems to be Dr. Zimbardo's personal apology to the world for having conducted the experiment in the first place... and his expression of hope that we can nevertheless learn something useful from it. Maybe someone else will... and perhaps that insight will offset the psychological harm that was likely done to the volunteers.

    Christopher J. Feahr, OD
    Conflict Mediation Specialist
    ...more info
  • Despite Years of Research, we still look for bad people
    Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment started as an investigation of how being confined to a mock prison would affect normal, well adjusted college students. Zimbardo and his assistants pre-screened 20+ students from the SF Bay area, and randomly assigned half as guards (working three eight hour shifts) and half as prisoners (confined 24/7). He advised the "guards" that they could not use force, but anything else was fair game to control the "prisoners." The "prisoners" were picked up by the palo Alto police, taken to the local police station, printed, blindfolded, and taken to the basement of the Stanford psych building--which had been converted into a mock prison. The "prisoners were stripped, deloused, and put into locked "cells"--converted offices.

    After less than a day, it became apparent that the transformation of the "guards" was at least as interesting as the transformation of the prisoners. The "guards" quickly became sadistic in their verbal and psychological abuse of the "prisoners." The "prisoners" quickly became both submissive, and resistant to authority in self destructive ways. Many others who came through the prison (parents of the "prisoners," a public defender, and a priest) all bought into the situation, and played their roles according to Zimbardo's rules. No one stepped outside of the situation and said--"These are college kids; they shouldn't be abused." No student quit. No guard told the other guards to cool their abuse. After less than a week, Zimbardo's fianc¨¦ (also a psychologist, but not directly involved in the study) brought Zimbardo back to reality, and the experiment was terminated.

    What happened to turn college students into abusive guards/passive prisoners?

    Zimbardo has spent his life--and all 500+ pages of this book, explaining that what the Stanford Prison Experiment proved has less to do with prisons (it was a very poor simulation of a prison--everyone knew the experiment would only last 2 weeks, none of the "prisoners" had actually committed any crimes; none was dangerous; no force was allowed); and everything to do with the way institutions impact the behavior of those who work in them. This applies to prisons, but also to many aspects of everyday life--corporate corruption, for example.

    After detailing the Stanford Experiment day-by-day, Zimbardo makes a brief detour into general psychology. He quickly returns to prisons--this time Abu Ghraib. Zimbardo testified as an expert for Ivan Frederick, and devotes the last third of the book to an analysis of how the systemic factors established by the military--and the civilians from Rumsfield to Bush--inevitably lead to the abuse which is now known to the world through photographs.

    While Zimbardo's approach is no longer considered revolutionary in psychology, almost everyone reflexively still blames bad behavior on bad people. Thus, most people concurred in Bush's statement that the soldiers involved were a few bad apples...and searched for explanations personal to those involved--former work as a correctional officer, mental illness, etc. Zimbardo spends a good part of the book telling us why that is simply wrong. We should look to the situation, and the system in general for an explanation of evil; not to personal disposition to do wrong.

    Fine analysis of a fascinating experiment....more info
  • Psychology and Behaviorism
    Learn about the Stanford Prison Experiment and see the psychology of how human beings become evil.
    ...more info
  • is it evil to call this book "garbage"?
    If so than I'm the devil himself...bwah ha ha ha haaaa...but really, this book was junk. Very boring for a psych book. I think the writer's head got a little too big from the attention he received from his prison experiment and he goes through every excruciating detail of it in this enormous book. I frankly think that his experiment was a sham in that he began it under false presumtions. False presumtions = false results. Since his life's work has largely been dedicated to the results of this experiment, it must say sadly, it's been a life wasted. Furthermore, this guy gets people believing that this experiment is something groundbreaking and should compel the prisons to change. Although prisons need to change in many areas, this author does not have any more of a clue than your average citizen....more info
  • A must read
    Zimbardo provides the most comprehensive review -- from Millgram to the Stanford Prison Project to the Iraqi prison atrocities -- of the systemic forces that can transform (almost) all of us to commit evil acts.

    If you need to be convinced that personality is less important than situational factors in shaping behavior, this is the place to start changing your mind....more info