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  Saturday  December 22  2007    02: 06 PM

book recommendation

The Lucifer Effect:
Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

by Philip Zimbardo

The Lucifer Effect revolves around a very interesting psychology experiment done at Stanford, in 1971, known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo took perfectly normal students and arbitrarily assigned them as prisoners and guards and made a prison in the basement of a Stanford building. Things quickly got out of hand. The guards started abusing the prisoners and the prisoners, who could have quit the experiment, acquiesced. Even those running the experiment got sucked in and it took Zimbardo's girlfriend to finally make him aware of the abuse and to end the experiment early. The book's first part goes into the details of the actual experiment. Then he draws conclusions. His point is that, contrary to your favorite bible thumper, there aren't evil people and good people. It depends on the situations we are put in. We all have the capability of doing terrible things under the right situation. Zimbardo then looks at how this has played out in real life at Abu Ghraib, which was the Stanford Prison Experiment writ large. The guards at Abu Ghraib didn't have a chance. The Lucifer Effect is a must read. Aside from the book there are also web resources that cover this landmark experiment.

The Lucifer Effect

Welcome to LuciferEffect.org, official web site of The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (Random House, 2007). In this book, I summarize more than 30 years of research on factors that can create a "perfect storm" which leads good people to engage in evil actions. This transformation of human character is what I call the "Lucifer Effect," named after God's favorite angel, Lucifer, who fell from grace and ultimately became Satan.

Rather than providing a religious analysis, however, I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts. As part of this account, The Lucifer Effect tells, for the first time, the full story behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, a now-classic study I conducted in 1971. In that study, normal college students were randomly assigned to play the role of guard or inmate for two weeks in a simulated prison, yet the guards quickly became so brutal that the experiment had to be shut down after only six days.


Stanford Prison Experiment

Welcome to the Stanford Prison Experiment web site, which features an extensive slide show and information about this classic psychology experiment, including parallels with the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? These are some of the questions we posed in this dramatic simulation of prison life conducted in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University.


Stanford prison experiment
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Stanford prison experiment was a psychological study of human responses to captivity and its behavioral effects on both authorities and inmates in prison. It was conducted in 1971 by a team of researchers led by Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University. Undergraduate volunteers played the roles of both guards and prisoners living in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building.

Prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their roles, stepping beyond the boundaries of what had been predicted and leading to dangerous and psychologically damaging situations. One-third of the guards were judged to have exhibited "genuine" sadistic tendencies, while many prisoners were emotionally traumatized and two had to be removed from the experiment early.

Ethical concerns surrounding the famous experiment often draw comparisons to the Milgram experiment, which was conducted in 1961 at Yale University by Stanley Milgram, Zimbardo's former high school friend.

Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr wrote in 1981 that the Milgram Experiment in the 1960s and the later Zimbardo Experiment were frightening in their implications about the danger which lurks in the darker side of human nature.