The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil Paperback – Jan 22 2008
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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.
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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.