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The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil [Paperback]

Philip Zimbardo
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 22 2008
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.

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From Publishers Weekly

Psychologist Zimbardo masterminded the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which college students randomly assigned to be guards or inmates found themselves enacting sadistic abuse or abject submissiveness. In this penetrating investigation, he revisits—at great length and with much hand-wringing—the SPE study and applies it to historical examples of injustice and atrocity, especially the Abu Ghraib outrages by the U.S. military. His troubling finding is that almost anyone, given the right "situational" influences, can be made to abandon moral scruples and cooperate in violence and oppression. (He tacks on a feel-good chapter about "the banality of heroism," with tips on how to resist malign situational pressures.) The author, who was an expert defense witness at the court-martial of an Abu Ghraib guard, argues against focusing on the dispositions of perpetrators of abuse; he insists that we blame the situation and the "system" that constructed it, and mounts an extended indictment of the architects of the Abu Ghraib system, including President Bush. 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. 23 photos. (Apr. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Social psychologist Zimbardo is best known as the father of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, which used a simulated prison populated with student volunteers to illustrate the extent to which identity is situated within a social setting; student volunteers randomly chosen to play guards became cruel and authoritarian, while those playing inmates became rebellious and depressed. With this book, Zimbardo couples a thorough narrative of the Stanford Prison Experiment with an analysis of the social dynamics of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, arguing that the "experimental dehumanization" of the former is instructive in understanding the abusive conduct of guards at the latter. This comparison, which is the book's core insight, is embedded in a sprawling discussion about situational influences that cobbles together a discussion of the psychology of evil, a strong criticism of the Bush administration, and a chapter celebrating heroism and calling for greater social bravery. This account's Abu Ghraib focus will generate demand. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sobering read June 27 2009
Zimbardo is the creator of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, where a group of young college students were randomly split into guards and prisoners in a mock prison for two weeks to see how their roles, the context, and the situation would affect their behavior. Thanks to the intervention of an outsider (Zimbardo himself was too sucked in by the situation to notice), the experiment was stopped short after less than a week as the two groups went wildly out of control. Prisoners were rioting, having nervous breakdowns, and losing all hope while guards became sadistic and authoritarian. Zimbardo quite aptly compares it to the situation at Abu Graib. Context completely took over these normal young adults who had been screened to be just that- healthy, normal young adults.

Most of the book is about the experiment, describing it in great depth and detail. Then there's several chapters on other social science research (including Milgram's dramatic studies of authority), two LONG chapters on Abu Graib (not very interesting to this non-American), and one final chapter on heroes. In particular, this book is lacking (in my opinion) more data and commentary on the latter topic of heroes, as well as MUCH more commentary from the participants of the prison experiment after it's all over. That's what really fascinates me- when normal people turn evil, how do they react to that fact later when they return to normal? How do they cope mentally with the knowledge that they just turned evil?

Because that's really one of two main themes of this book. That is, most evil is done by normal people, just as is most heroics are done by normal people. Because of theme two: the incredible power of social contexts and situations.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You Too Can Be Turned to the Dark Side! June 25 2008
In "Star Wars", the Jedi knight, Anakin Skywalker, gets turned to the dark side and becomes the notorious Darth Vader. The story is told in such a way that the subtle changes leading to his conversion are quite believable. We would like to think that in real life converting someone to an evil cause would be much more difficult, but in fact it turns out to be even easier than the way it happened in the movie.

In this book Philip Zimbardo the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) documents how easy it is to make good people do bad things. The first part of the book is a detailed account of his "prison" experiment in which students selected as being of average disposition were assigned roles as prisoners and guards in a mock prison, and how quickly they assumed the roles they were given to play. It soon got to a point where the guard behavior became excessively cruel, some of the prisoners were on the verge of mental breakdown, and the experiment had to be aborted. Even Zimbardo himself became immersed in his role as superintendent and forgot his objectivity as the experimenter.

Although I was previously aware of the SPE, I did not know that it had been in part paid for by the U.S. military through the Office of Naval Research. Strangely the author does not see anything that might be wrong with this even though the results were a pretty clear lesson in how to create stress in prisoners.

He goes on to describe other work such as Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiments in which people would obey an authority figure by shocking "learners", actually actors pretending to be shocked, to the point of death. In another experiment women would even shock a puppy to the point of severe injury or death to "help" them learn.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars VERY INSIGHTFUL Nov. 16 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I worked in a prison for 20 years - I never could put my finger on what it was with the Guards - reading this book was like hitting the 'nail on the head'. It was hard to read because it's so true and having lived it all those years makes it even sadder for me. No I'm not a guard and I think it's work saying that it isn't only the convicts that they mess with - it's the civilian staff as well - the clerks, teachers, shop instructors. Anyone in that prison that isn't a guard is on their list........
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5.0 out of 5 stars Depressing, but interesting. Sept. 30 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Lucifer Effect is an argument that situational factors play a much larger role in determining behavior than individual agency. Dr. Zimbardo demonstrates this with two main case studies - the Stanford Prison Experiment, which he oversaw, and the abuses at Abu Ghraib, where he was called in to be an expert witness. If you don't know what those things are, you should stop and google them right now. The subject matter alternates between depressing and enraging. His argument however, is an important one to know and keep in mind. This not a happy book, but it is an important one to read if you want to understand how people make moral choices.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It could have been me May 28 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The product arrived in excellent condition. The book was almost new, just missing the dust jacket.

The way the author presented the material was anecdotal, with insightful observations about the subjects. But of course, he is a psych prof at Stanford.
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