The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

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 dar...

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Title:The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
Author:Philip G. Zimbardo
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Edition Language:English

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil Reviews

  • Katie

    I was excited to read this, since I have a psychology background and had heard that it was a good look at the Stanford Prison Experiment, which I studied in college. I wasn't too impressed with this book though. It is at least 100 pages too long and bogged down by excessive detail, making it read like a numbing textbook. The breakdown is as follows: 200 pages on Zimbardo's Prison Experiment, 100 pages of analysis of the experiment, 75 pages on Abu Ghraib, 75 pages about the Bush administration's

    I was excited to read this, since I have a psychology background and had heard that it was a good look at the Stanford Prison Experiment, which I studied in college. I wasn't too impressed with this book though. It is at least 100 pages too long and bogged down by excessive detail, making it read like a numbing textbook. The breakdown is as follows: 200 pages on Zimbardo's Prison Experiment, 100 pages of analysis of the experiment, 75 pages on Abu Ghraib, 75 pages about the Bush administration's culpability, 50 pages on factors for improvement, 25 pages on heroism, and 50 pages of footnotes. The author did not attempt to eliminate his personal biases (even embracing them, calling himself a "bleeding heart liberal" at one point), which really bothered me, since the book was presented as an unbiased view of social behavior as it relates to situational forces. The subject WAS very interesting, but I'd recommend it to a limited audience - those who are schooled in social psychology and/or prison societies, who are comfortable diving into scientific literature, and who won't mind the liberal spin that Zimbardo includes.

  • Rebecca

    Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect is a difficult read, not because its premise is particularly startling, but because its examination of the psychology of evil shows it to be disturbingly simple. By placing each act of breathtaking cruelty beside a description of its perpetrator--invariably an ordinary, psychologically normal person--Zimbardo makes clear that we are just animals socialized into one behavior, and easily socialized into another. And though he never outright asks it, every page

    Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect is a difficult read, not because its premise is particularly startling, but because its examination of the psychology of evil shows it to be disturbingly simple. By placing each act of breathtaking cruelty beside a description of its perpetrator--invariably an ordinary, psychologically normal person--Zimbardo makes clear that we are just animals socialized into one behavior, and easily socialized into another. And though he never outright asks it, every page of his book prompts the impossible question: What kind of monster are you?

    Zimbardo spends nearly 500 pages supporting an argument that’s convincing by page two: Situations entice people to commit heroic acts and unspeakable atrocities alike. With little provocation, formerly good people will discard their values entirely. Some of the examples were new to me, such as Pauline, a women’s empowerment lecturer in Rwanda who ordered the genocidaires under her charge, “Before you kill the women, you need to rape them.” Other examples are well known--millions of World War II-era Europeans turned on their Jewish neighbors, the horrifying Rape of Nanjing, and many more.

    And while the author tries time and again to complicate his argument, to mitigate the bleakness of his premise, those attempts feel insufficient. He assures readers that--although social systems seize control of our ethics, elicit our worst selves, and punish those who refuse to comply--people can still be dissuaded from committing atrocities. We can learn to resist grotesque situational pressures by simply applying Zimbardo's handy maxims: “I respect just authority but rebel against unjust authority,” “I want group acceptance, but value my independence,” “I will assert my unique identity,” etc.

    But, in fact, Zimbardo’s sociological studies and historical survey offer ample evidence that people who defy the demands of the societal machine are rare, and that they are mostly punished for their moral courage. American serviceman Hugh Thompson stopped the My Lai massacre by aiming machine guns at his superiors and ordered medical evacuations of wounded Vietnamese civilians--and as “punishment was required to fly the most dangerous helicopter missions again and again. He was shot down five times, breaking his backbone and suffering lasting psychological scars from his nightmare experience. It took thirty years before the military recognized his heroic deeds… Paradoxically, Lieutenant Calley (an orchestrator of the massacre) was treated as a hero.”

    Certainly people are to blame for the moral crimes they commit, and yet it seems somehow flippant to assume that all people can avoid the blameworthy road, that all people are capable of risking hardship or death to resist descending into evil--especially when submitting to situational demands is the psychologically normal (and perhaps healthy) thing to do. The stronger and sadder argument, the one that Zimbardo tries to avoid making, is the one his own research supports: Most of us are available for total moral conquest by our bosses, parents, peers, and government, irredeemably adrift on currents much stronger than ourselves.

  • Bookdragon Sean

    During the "Stanford Prison Experiment," an experiment he created, he was part of the actual testing and also became victim to the traps the other participants fell into.

    The idea was to separate the participants into two groups, guards and prisoners with Zimbardo taking the role of prison overseer in a monitored environment. But things quickly went from weird to damn right unethical. Instead of simply playing the roles assigned to them, everybody involved actuall

    During the "Stanford Prison Experiment," an experiment he created, he was part of the actual testing and also became victim to the traps the other participants fell into.

    The idea was to separate the participants into two groups, guards and prisoners with Zimbardo taking the role of prison overseer in a monitored environment. But things quickly went from weird to damn right unethical. Instead of simply playing the roles assigned to them, everybody involved actually became the roles. The guards became violent, the prisoners became unhinged and unstable and Zimbardo himself became rather tyrannical and uncaring. The experiment would have continued if his girlfriend, at the time, didn’t break through to him and show him how messed up things were.

    Zimbardo is rather embarrassed at his own part, understandably. But he still used the findings of the experiment to theorise why it actually happened and considered how normal people can become violent and evil so quickly. It’s all about situational factors and conformity. The men adapted to their roles all too quickly and the power given to the guards was theirs to exploit at their own will. The separation of men into two factions also helped to evoke as dangerous “us” and “them” attitude allowing for an unsympathetic approach to others.

    discusses the psychology of roles we take on when forced into power struggles. It’s a strong piece of research, and Zimbardo theorises quite heavily. His assumptions on his own experiments are grounded, though he takes them much further afield and considers many violent prisons. As logical as some of his argument are, at this stage they are only arguments rather than findings. I much preferred the first section of the book, the part about his research, rather than his speculations on situations with seperate cultural and social factors.

    What

    shows us though is the dangers of conformity and where it can lead us. Social conditioning plays a huge part in our cognitive makeup, a part we’re not always aware of until it’s too late. I really appreciated the author’s honesty; it must have been hard to write a book about one’s own short comings.

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