- What is the book about and who is the author? Then, give an introduction for the book by giving an overview.
The author, Philip Zimbardo is a social psychologist who is a professor emeritus of Psychology in Stanford University and a researcher who took part in controversial social psychology projects such as the Stanford Prison Experiment which he talks about in the book in relation to situations where people are influenced to do evil acts by the environment they are in. He challenges his readers on how well they know themselves and how well they can predict their ability to resist the temptation to commit bad and unthinkable things regardless of the situation they encounter in the future. He also shared his research about the abuses and tortures in Abu Ghraib and the accounts of an MP who worked there and was put on trial for all the abuses and tortures he perpetrated on the prisoners together with other military prison guards. The book The Lucifer Effect is the author’s attempt to present situations where ordinary people commit sins through unimaginable acts of torture towards their fellow human beings and why they are compelled to either participate on the abuse or simply turn a blind eye on such events, both actions considered equally inhumane because of the level of evilness of the said tortures. Aside from his social psychology researches, his personal experience of growing up in a ghetto in Bronx, New York also fueled his career path direction of studying evil and the manner it comes about to people as influenced by their environment. According to him, his curiosity towards human nature especially towards the dark side of it, has been with him since childhood and he carried it with him all throughout his career as a social psychologist (Preface).
- Why was this book written when there are several articles and book chapters that have already been written?
This book took two years in the making but some chapters were already written by Zimbardo many years earlier, after his assignment in the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971. During that time, the strong emotions he felt towards the abuses he witnessed were still fresh and he is thankful that he did not finish and publish the book that time. The book was published in 2007, and he expressed his relief of waiting for many years to finish the book, which gave him time to ponder on his arguments better and dull the strong feelings of range he felt towards the prison guards and himself for being a silent witness to everything for the sake of their research. The many years in between his break from his first attempt to write the books gave him time to look at the bigger picture on how to rationally and objectively present his ideas (Preface).
- What is the basic premise of the Lucifer Effect? Please include details to support your answer.
The basic premise of the book is understanding how good people turn evil. The author sets as an example the fallen angel Lucifer, who used to be God’s favorite angel and who’s fell into the temptation of disobedience to God and pride. He raises the question of how sure we are about our own goodness and how we will react in situations that will force us to do unthinkable and bad things towards others. Furthermore, he establishes the psychological truths that the world is filled with good and evil, the line that separates good and evil can be crossed by both sides because what separates them is permeable, and it is possible for good people to become evil and vice versa if facing certain circumstances (1).
- What is the evidence that Zimbardo uses for the Lucifer Effect? Note: there are several pieces of evidence, one being the Stanford Prison Experiment. Also, please include your thoughts about whether or not the evidence is sufficient to support the premise or argument.
Some of the examples that Zimbardo used for the Lucifer Effect include, the mass suicide and murder of the followers of People’s Temple, sexual abuses of Catholic priests and leaders, Nazi concentration camp horrors and the tortures committed by military and civilian police worldwide. He states that people may not be able to imagine themselves committing evil deeds but it all depends on the situation we find ourselves in. People may believe themselves to be good but they can change their mindset and actions when exposed to certain circumstances or people that will drive the change. A person’s disposition of being raised good or evil can be changed by the situation that they find themselves in. Just like Lucifer who was originally an angel, but turned into the devil Satan when his pride and desire to surpass God took over him. According to Zimbardo, our disposition such as our genes, traits and upbringing can be changed by the more powerful force of some circumstances that we find ourselves in, and which will drive us to do evil deeds that we never imagined ourselves to be capable of (6-8).
- What were the details (or methods and results) of the Stanford Prison Experiment (see chapters 2-9)?
The Stanford Prison Experiment was Zimbardo’s social psychology experiment of how ordinary people can shift into the roles of guards and prisoners in the two weeks’ time of the experiment. A mock-prison was built in Stanford campus and 9 students who volunteered for the experiment became the prisoners while the rest of the 24 chosen for the project played the roles of guards and warden. They were vaguely informed on the details of the experiment that they were participating in and being paid fifteen dollars per day for. As the experiment started, the nine prisoners were given their own number as an identifier and were told to call each other by number inside the jail. This reduced them to anonymity and into the role of being prisoners collectively. They were placed in three cells and guards were assigned to them in three shift. They were allowed only five minutes bathroom privileges and all other liberties were privileges to be determined by the guards. Zimbardo wanted to observe the changes happening to prisoners once they lose their freedom. Initially, the prisoners’ behavior was the subject of interest but the guards’ changes in behavior also fascinated the researchers on how people can transform once given power over their fellow men (54-56).
Before long, the power struggle between prisoners and guards started. Two prisoners were placed in the Hole, a special cell for discipline where prisoners who violate the rules are placed without meal and other privileges (59). Although they were instructed not to physically hurt the prisoners, the guards gradually resorted to physical abuse when their authority was challenged. Punishments that led to physical exhaustion to the prisoners were also applied, such as push-ups, pumping exercise, jumping jacks, and even singing (65). The role of being prisoners felt real when they realized that they can no longer cancel their contract in the experiment unlike what was agreed upon before the experiment started (71).
- What are Zimbardo’s conclusions from the Stanford Prison Experiment (see chapter 10)?
Loss of personal identity and being under constant control can change the behavior of a person, such as the prisoners in the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE). The participants of the experiment were all regular students who were chosen for history of arrest and some mental health issues, but over-all, they were normal and well-functioning individuals. However, the prison set-up messed-up their heads and made them react either in protest or in zombie-like obedience (196). The prisoners were analyzed based on the outcome of the experiment, whether they were able to endure the six-day period or not (the two-week long original plan was cut short due to the unexpected and unforeseen behaviors inside the prison). According to Zimbardo, the ones who endured up to the end of the experiment scored high in the aspects of Conformity, Extroversion and Empathy than those who quit due to extreme stress (199). As for the guards, the two of the meanest and who performed most abusive acts to the prisoners scored the highest in Masculinity (200). The results of the study show that the situation is a very powerful catalyst to the behavior of people, such as in the SPE. Human nature can be dramatically transformed when people are placed in circumstances that are negative situational forces. We act according to the rules and roles assigned to us by the society. When placed in a role of power, some people tend to become abusive, while only very few are able to resist the temptation to corrupt power (215-219).
- Describe the ethical problems with the Stanford Prison Experiment. What does Zimbardo mean by “relative” and “absolute” ethics.
- What are some of the effects of the Stanford Prison Experiment? That is, what events or insights (from others, Zimbardo, or the participants) came after this study?
After the experiment, the participants of the experiment were able to return to their emotional and psychological state after some debriefing. After some time, they were able to go back to being normal students. According to Zimbardo, this shows how situations can change a person’s behavior for the better or worse state. Good people can be induced into committing evil acts if placed in a situation that approves such acts. Moreover, such situations challenge a person’s strength of personality, and sense of character and morality (211).
- Describe other research findings or real-world events that show situational power (see chapter 12). What are some things of which we should be cautious? Please note: this could get exhaustive but I’m looking for well-developed paragraphs here (about two to three should be sufficient). This chapter probably includes the most “evidence” for situational power, and is very interesting.
One of the most powerful drive human behavior transformation is the human desire to be “in” and not “out” of certain social circles that we desire to belong to as proposed by C.S. Lewis’ idea of an Inner Circle where people want to be accepted in for instant status and improved image or identity. In adolescents, this drive to belong to one’s desired group is called peer pressure. This social pressure in adolescents drives them to perform actions that are even out of their nature just to avoid being left out of the group. Being rejected by groups can lead people to turn their behavior from the good to the worse (259).
However, Zimbardo cautions people of the dangers of the desire to belong and doing whatever it takes to avoid rejection. Sometimes, people choose a wrong circle to enter and this turns them into worse version of themselves. Being in a group can make people do things that they will not do alone, which may be due to the feeling of power of being in a group. Moreover, there are always persons of authority in a group which dictates the members of the group what to do out of obedience to authority. An example is the blind obedience to authority of the military and police. Although they may act according to their superior’s orders and according to their duty, the actions they commit are sometimes inhumane, such as what happened in the SPE. Prison guards were tasked to maintain order in prison by the warden. However, their actions to control the prisoners to gain the approval of the warden became abusive and even inhumane. At that moment, they were just guards doing their duty and playing their role, but their judgment on what is good or bad is already clouded by their current circumstance. They want to conform to their role as a group of prison guards that are in charge of the prisoners, and those who disobeyed deserve to be punished (261).
- What are Zimbardo’s contentions about deindividuation, dehumanization, and inaction? What is his evidence?
According to Zimbardo, deindividuation or changing one’s appearance to prevent identification can lead a person to change behavior a well. An example he cited is the character in the story The Lord of the Flies wherein the character paints his face as a mask and commits acts that he will not normally do. This example of removing one’s identification makes one more prone to acting against what they will normally do if they are identified as themselves. This may be due to loss of inhibition to do something that is wrong if the person is certain to stay anonymous and as an unknown perpetrator of the act (304).
Dehumanization refers to human beings being treated as an object or something less of a human by another person. According to Zimbardo, dehumanization is the cause of unjust actions such as racism, prejudice and discrimination towards other people. If a person starts viewing the other person in a dehumanized way, even an upright and moral person is capable of being cruel to the dehumanized person. An example he cited is the massacre in Vietnam done by American soldiers who viewed the different-looking Asian people in a dehumanized manner. According to some interviewed GIs, it becomes easier to kill enemies when one does not think of them as human beings (307-308).
Lastly, Zimbardo also tackles inaction and considers it as an act of evil as well. He also found that people who have been exposed to more emergencies are less likely to help during such instances. This can be attributed to some sort of indifference and being used to the event. Also, inaction is mostly practiced in institutions where violence is tolerated because it is part of being in the system. An example is the good cops letting their colleagues get away with abusive behavior towards criminals because they are on the same side and belong to the same institution. Inaction is encouraged in systems where calling out or trying to correct a mistake may lead to the disruption of the institution’s normal operations or the person going against the institution will be accused of disloyalty and will be treated as an outsider (318).
- What is the parallel between the Stanford Prison Experiment and the events at Abu Ghraib? (see chapter 14).
- How do we resist situational influences (please explain each, don’t just list them… of course)? What are some real-world examples of people who have done this?
- Please include a statement of why you think Zimbardo titled the book Lucifer “Effect” as opposed to “Affect.” This is interesting to think about, and perfectly captures his premise.
I believe that Zimbardo used the word effect instead of affect because the Lucifer Effect is the result of a process and not a state of being as the word affect implies. Lucifer Effect is the behavioral change that happens when a person is exposed to an environment that induces them to be bad or to act badly even if they are not normally that way.
- What are other real-world examples to which the Lucifer Effect applies?
Other real-world examples of Lucifer Effect is when people working in the office of a corrupt government official takes part in covering up the corruption because of their boss’s authority over them and in order to protect their jobs. People who perceive themselves to be ethical will sometimes resort to acts of bribery in order to silence people. In worst cases, some people who threaten to disrupt the system are murdered.
- What are your conclusions after having read this book and writing the paper.
After reading the book, I am convinced more than ever that in the absence of check and balance in the system, and in the absence of rules and regulations that guide humans into doing what is right, we are capable of unimaginable evil if left to ourselves. Just like Lucifer, we are prone to pride and disobedience if placed in a situation where we are in charge. However, the last chapter in the book also gives examples on how humans are capable of selfless acts of heroism if in a situation that calls for it. In summary, I think that goodness and evilness are both innate in every person. However, what our environment brings out is what prevails especially if we have a weak perception of what kind of person we are, making us easily manipulated and influenced by the factors around us.
Zimbardo, P. (2007). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Random House Publishing Group: New York.