Thursday, February 28, 2008

Phil Zimbardo What makes People Go Wrong/Will Evil Prevail

Known by the public primarily for an experiment where Stanford Prison Experiment. He is now asking "what pushes some people to become perpetrators of evil while others act heroically on behalf of those in need?". He says that it's ultimately about power. His first example was the outrage of Abu Ghraib. He says he was disappointed but not surprised after his experience as the prison superintendent for the Stanford study. He showed many of the startling and frankly disgusting images of the abuse, worse than anything I'd seen before, including the smiling images of Americans standing by those they abused. Truly sick stuff. He pointed out that some of the prisoners were mentally ill and should never have been there. What makes people do this kind of thing? Dispositional (bad apples), situational (bad barrel), systemic. He then talks about the lucifer effect, the human minds infinite capacity to be evil AND to be good. He asks, would you electrocute stranger if Hitler asked you to? The study he then talks about is one many of us have seen or seen analogs to where one of the subjects is the teacher and the other is the student. Every time the student makes a mistake the teacher shocks him with steadily escalating voltage. The test was to see how many people would go all the way to 450 volts which could kill someone. Even when the "students" screamed and said they had heart conditions, nearly 90% went all the way to 450 volts. The "teachers" were noral folks form every walk of life.

Next he described the Stanford test "Quiet Rage". 75 students signed up for the 1-2 week study.
They were "arrested by local police, which was a surprise. They were picked up and jailed as if they were under arrest. They were forced to do degrading activities from cleaning toilets with their bare hands to various kinds of punishment and harrassment...the study had to be abandoned when so many of the subjects literally "lost it". More at

He describes 7 social processes which cause the lucifer effect and one of the stronget was power without supervision. That's what happened at Abu Ghraib. The guards knew that no one was going to come down and see what they were doing.

A paradigm shift is needed. Heroism is the antidote to evil. Promote heroism to kids. Reficus attention on heroes as opposed to evil. We want kids to realize that heroes are every day people not caped superheroes. They can be and should be heroic, we need to share examples of the good things people do, the heroic things more than the bad things. Teach them skills to be heroic. Act when others are passive....a great quote from one of the heroes he talked about: "I did what Anyone could do and Everyone ought to do".

The point he leaves us with is that we too will have the opportunity to be heroic and we should be prepared to be so.

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