397 of 423 people found the following review helpful
Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment from the early 70's used college students for a study, making half of them prisoners and the other half guards. With instructions meant to polarize, the worst in human nature quickly came out, and the experiment had to be discontinued prematurely. Unlike other important studies, this one could not be duplicated because of ethical concerns, but many similar studies have been done - most of them validating Zimbardo's result: that with few exceptions, the best of us can be coerced to perform evil acts under the right social circumstances. A book about Zimbardo's findings is long overdue. The incident at Abu Ghraib and his participation in the trial sparked his enthusiasm to share this story with us.
Chapter I - According to the story in the Bible, Lucifer, God's favorite angel, challenged God's authority - thus began the transformation of Lucifer into Satan. Zimbardo finds here an analogy to the situation in all wars, where men routinely justify being inhumane to other men, despite clear direction otherwise from the Geneva Convention.
Chapters II - IX - Zimbardo had 24-hour audio and video surveillance of the prison and kept meticulous written notes. He presents verbatim transcripts of tense conversation and photographs. A variety of situations from world history are presented showing disturbing descriptions of torture, rape, and general abuse of a captured, helpless enemy. He then draws analogies between real history and the Stanford prison experiment.
Chapters X - XI - Elaboration on the importance, ethical considerations, and notoriety of the Stanford prison experiment. If you Google "experiment," the first website listed is this one, out of a potential 300 million.
Chapters XII - XIII - How powerful social pressures can cause good people to do bad things - nuts and bolts of evolutionary psychology, social theory, and recent applicable research. Humans are essentially social. Creating semi-permanent networks and hierarchies of interaction is what people do and it is more than just a strategy for survival. The "us versus them" mentality evolved for and worked well for hunter-gatherers - nowadays we could and should do better.
Chapter XIV - Application of the findings of the Stanford prison experiment to Abu Ghraib. The author was an expert witness for previously highly-honored Sergeant Frederick, one of the defendants. He describes the situation that ended in abuse, from the permissive attitudes starting at the top (Rumsfeld advocating a "take the gloves off" approach to detainees) to 40 straight nights of 12-hour shifts.
Chapter XV - The military command and the Bush administration are portrayed as accomplices for their widespread reliance on torture-interrogation, well-documented by independent sources. In the new leadership at Abu Ghraib, the DVD of the Stanford prison experiment has been used to warn the new guards about the group-think hazards that are inherent in the prisoner-guard relationship.
Chapter XVI - Some people do not yield to the power of social influence. The author outlines a program intended to build resistance to mind-control strategies. Ordinary people may become heroes simply by doing the right thing.
For those willing to consider the bad as well as the good aspects of human nature, a must-read.
135 of 144 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2007
The premise of this book is captivating, and I read it almost immediately after seeing Dr. Zimbardo on the Daily Show, where I learned of it. The first 2/3rds of this book are fascinating, particularly the account of the Stanford Prison Experiment and subsequent experiments regarding the human capacity for evil. I greatly admire Zimbardo, but the book is not what I expected.
The first 66% of the book is psychological, and it seems to me that the last 33% is more historical and political. I started to lose interest during the analysis of Abu Ghraib because it was just repeating the concepts we had learned earlier in the book, and was no longer new and intriguing. The book was just way too long, period, to cover the same themes - deindividuization, dehumanization, etc., etc. I wanted more from this book than it delivered, but it was still worth reading.
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2007
There is no question that Zimbardo is a great scholar and that he had spent years, decades, studying this subject. Yet, good scholarship doesn't always translate to good writing. This is a thick (literary and otherwise) book. The overall argument presented by Zimbardo is clear, but it feels that it is bogged down by so many details. There are pages after pages of transcripts from the original study. And here is the point. It all depends what you expect. If you want very detailed account of the 1971 study, that's what you get. Clear, detailed, well-supported and well-explained. If you look mainly for straightfoward answers to the question how good people turn evil, this book could be a difficult read.
129 of 144 people found the following review helpful
on April 1, 2007
This book is the breathtaking culmination of more than 30 years of careful research into the causes of evil. Dr Zimbardo, Stanford professor, former president of the American Psychological Association, host of the PBS series Psychology, and author of the bestselling introductory psychology text of all time, has devoted nearly all of his academic career to careful studies of the path between good and evil.
His dozens of research papers have documented how environmental and social forces can push even the best of us toward bad behavior. Even more importantly, he has documented the steps we can take as individuals and as societies to become more humane. His findings are widely respected within the academic community. This is not "controversial" stuff; it's the right stuff.
Dr. Zimbardo's review of the field is lively and engaging. Then, he brings us new findings and shows how they apply in ways that can powerfully change lives. This is an exciting book that needs to be widely read.
Vice President of Research
65 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2008
Upon first glance you can tell what Dr. Zimbargo set out to do. He wanted to write a book about the dark side in everyone, use examples from real life to illustrate his point and finally provide guidance on how to stay moral. His book however, falls slightly short of this vision.
The main focus of this book is the Standfard Prison Experiment. This was a social psychology study that examined the effects of situational forces on the behaviours and actions of people. It's an interesting study and well worth the time to research on your own. Unfortunately, it doesn't offer many angles when trying to illuminate the dark side of people as a whole.
After a thorough and often-times overly detailed account of this event Dr. Zimbargo offers some insight and explanations into his findings. I thought this was the best part of the book. These are Dr. Zimbargo's own thoughts on paper and they are interesting. Furthermore, he goes onto discuss other social psychology experiments (google "Milgram Experiments")that drew similar conclusions to his study. Unfortunately, this part is not very long.
The next section of the book draws parallels between the Stanford Prison Experiment and the environment at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This part of the book is very dry. By page 300 you've been hit over the head so many times with the Stanford Prison Experiment that it loses its awe factor.
Lastly, Dr. Zimbargo discusses how people can remain good in difficult situations. This part of the book is lacking.
All and all its a decent book. I thought it would've been better if Dr. Zimbargo relied a little less on the Stanford Prison Experiment and a little more on other mediums to explain the impact of situational forces on people.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2012
The book started off strong, the opening chapter to the book gave a very dark and dismal look into the nature of humans all over the world, from Nazis, to Rwanda, to Prisoners of War in general, humans have found very disturbing and twisted ways of punishing and dominating over others. The beginning of the book was so bleak and upsetting that I ended up putting the book aside and crying over the lack of humanity of my fellow human beings. I wanted to continue on because the author stated that to guard oneself against this tide of darkness, one must first see the depths of the despair and learn how people, who are very much like me and you, came to place.
The next the author takes us to his Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE). I multiple problems with this study. First off, the guards had no training what so ever to be guards, in fact, they were told that they needed to dehumanize and deindividuate the prisoners to bring on a sense of hopelessness and despair and that they could have complete and total control over everything the prisoners experienced. Well, with orienting the guards in that manner it is no wonder how things went the way they did. Not to mention that if any of the guards showed humanity they were taken aside and told to do a better job by showing more authority and reigning in any type of compassion for the prisoners. There are many other things about the experiment that were upsetting, from the fact that prisoners felt they could not leave and it seemed they couldn't, not even when they said they wished to leave because it wasn't given as a direct command only a wanting, to the mock-parole hearings that further confused and shamed the prisoners, to the complete lack of oversight, expect reminders to dehumanize the prisoners and not to physically abuse them.
This study, Zimbardo says, shows how Situations, not personal pathologies, influence people more then they know. I agree with him, when people are unprepared and put into a situation that they are trying to figure out the best way to navigate it, will look to authority and others with them for direction, which can lead to some unfortunate outcomes. BUT, as much as he says that personal pathologies didn't influence the Situation, how can he be sure. Surely some personality traits don't show up on personality tests because they haven't had any room to grow or manifest themselves. Not all the guards treated the prisoners so harmfully, in fact, it was primarily one guard that seemed to relish, and who admits that he was doing his own experiments, so in this case, would it not be possible that a latent trait has surfaced?
Zimbardo claims that Systems create bad situations that influence people to behave negatively. Granted. But in the SPE he refuses to accept blame as the sole perpetrator of the System, he was the authority, he was guider, he sit up and approved of the behavior, he created the situation that not only allowed a fostering for negative treatment of humans, but also encouraged it. He does say he was responsible a few times, but it seems so false as he claims that he was a victim of everything too, that is wasn't his fault. His claim that Systems and Situations create monsters out of good people doesn't seem to acknowledge that people, individuals, are the ones that set that ball rolling, who manipulate people, and undermine people to allow it to continue. He tries to bridge the two worlds, of Situation and Systems making bad barrels vs. pathologies of people who are bad apples, but it doesn't seem complete in my eyes.
Multiple studies have been done that show this Situation vs. Person scenario. I found all of these much more compelling then the SPE. And in them it shows that individuals can be influenced by merely one other person saying no to a situation or supporting them to change the way people ended up doing on the experiment. The power of two it seems is most important. The old adage that Evil triumphs only when good men do nothing seems to be most salient here. The experiments also talk about ways that people can defuse blame, read not take responsibility for their actions, be manipulated into hatred of others, and other general ways that people can fail at listening to their own voice and conscience. And it is in this part that Zimbardo's ego rears it's ugly and massive head. He repetitively talks of his work, his writings, his website, how people are connected to him. I had to put the book down at times from getting frustrated with how much he was selling himself and his work and how much of a good guy he is.
He then takes us to the Prison in Abu Ghraib, which has outcomes like those of the SPE, and he shows how this came about. And again, there is one guard who is more creative and punishing then all the rest, there is lack of oversight, diffusion of responsibility, orders to get information by any means, unauthorized personnel taking control over the MP and other chaos. The next chapter puts the System on trial, that being Bush and his administrative. I didn't read this chapter, not because I disagree with him. I agree that abuses can only happen when people not only look the other way, but give some sign of approval, then things that should not happen are condoned. But after reading about everything I didn't feel that this chapter would add to my knowledge, it was just Zimbardo being judge and jury of an administration he disliked.
The last chapter was disappointing. He talks about people who are heroes and the different categories of heroes, be it political, religious, or everyday, and the ways that they demonstrate these heroics. But he doesn't go into detail about how these people came to make the choices they did, what they attribute it too. He gives advice on how people can protect themselves from influences from people who do harm, but it is brief and once again he says his website and tells that more detail is given then. I personally suggest reading a book on how people influence instead.
The book doesn't deliver. An interesting and important idea that is never fully fleshed out or explained. I wish that the researchers in the experiment really did in-depth post interviews as to why people yielded to authority, I think that reasons could be very verity, from that was the quickest way out for themselves, that they under guessed the harm, to they felt they had no choice and were trapped. I wanted greater detail about those who resist as well, why? He says that Situations have more power then individual and their personality, but evidence also goes against that and his own advice to change things comes down to the individual. I think more studies need to be done and more books written on this topic.
35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Reading this book was a chilling experience.
Basically, it deals with the issue of why seemingly good and moral people can do bad and immoral things.
In 1971 Philip Zimbardo created the "Stanford Prison Experiment" wherein a group of college-aged students took part in a mock prison experiment at Stanford University. Some took the part of prisoners and some the part of the guards. It was a grant-funded experiment that was to last for two weeks. It began on a Sunday but by the following Friday, the project was called off due to the brutal behavior of the guards and the emotionally traumatized prisoners. At the premature end of the experiment Zimbardo and his co-workers collected a lot of information and data. But most important, they did a lot of soul searching as to why the brutal behavior happened and how they, the originators of the program, may have unintentionally contributed to it.
Among others, there are references to the My Lai massacre, the Holocaust during World War Two and (most memorable for our generation) the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture horror. Zimbardo used his Stanford Prisoner experiment to help figure out why those unconscionable acts took place. It was sobering reading and while I was fascinated with what I read, there were times I had to put the book down to think, get my bearings - and cry.
Zimbardo presents many sobering insights into human nature as to why basically decent, law-abiding people can do such things. For me, two things items stand out:
1. The "bad barrel" as opposed to the "bad apple" theory. He shows how certain circumstances and events can make it easier to do wrong things. He doesn't believe in excusing circumstances to justify bad behavior, but he does show how certain environments render the wrong choices easier to make.
2. The desire for social acceptance. He quotes freely from the C. S. Lewis article "The Inner Ring" to show how the desire for acceptance into the inner circle can make otherwise good people do some bad things.
I see a twofold way to read this book:
First of all, we need to be honest with ourselves and realize that most likely, we could fall into the same trap of cruelty.
Second, although we could fall into it, we don't have to, either. Zimbardo spent a lot of time showing us heroes - both known and unknown - who had the courage to stand up to evil - including Christina Maslach, one of Zimbardo's colleagues - whom he later married!
This is a book to read carefully, to absorb and to reflect upon. There's a lot of information here, and I firmly believe that if it is read in the right attitude, it will make us better people.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2007
I don't know of many things more important than understanding how regular people like you and me can be manipulated by systems and situations into doing terrible things. The Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, the Mai Lai massacre, Abu Ghraib, and the horrors currently being perpetrated in Darfur, in Guantanamo, and in torture centers run by governments around the world cannot be understood, and certainly cannot be prevented, without such understanding.
That is what Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo, creator of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment 30 years ago, does in this detailed, sobering, and profoundly insightful book.
I will not try to summarize what Zimbardo says, because I think that every person concerned about the state of the world should read the book from the preface to the last page of the notes.
What I can say is that Zimbardo's analysis is not based on ancient religious or philosophical ideas about good and evil; it most emphatically does not accept that the great and small terrors that we humans continue to inflict on each other are caused by "a few bad apples;" and it refuses to let those of us who are sure that, unlike so many others, we could never be moved to do terrible things, remain secure in that delusion.
Instead, _The Lucifer Effect_ is based on fact, on decades of hard-won experimental evidence, and on careful and insightful reasoning.
To his credit, Zimbardo also discusses the heroism of those equally ordinary people who successfully resist the powers of a cruel system or situation to corrupt and destroy. I hope that if enough people read this book, it will inspire more of us to that level of empathy, humanity, independence, and courage.
Robert Adler, author of _Science Firsts: From the Creation of Science to the Science of Creation_; and _Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome_.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Zimbardo addresses questions in this book such as "What makes good people do bad things?" "How can moral people be seduced to act immorally?" and "Who is in danger of crossing the line?" He then sets the stage by asserting that we live in a "mass murder century" - more than 50 million have been systematically murdered by government decrees (actually, many indirectly so through starvation). In 1915, Ottoman Turks slaughtered 1.5 million Armenians, then the Nazis liquidated at least 6 million Jews, 3 million Soviet POWs, and 2 million Poles, Stalin's empire murdered 20 million Russians, Mao Zedong up to 30 million, the Japanese army killed about 300,000 Chinese in a few months during 1937, the Khmer Rouge regime 1.7 million in Cambodia, Saddam 100,000 Kurds, and most recently about 1 million Tutsi in Rwanda were killed by their neighbors.
Zimbardo is best known for conducting an decades-prior experiment at Stanford in which student volunteers were randomly assigned to be either guards or prisoners. As in prior similar studies (students in other locales told to administer shocks to others who made errors), the experiment quickly surprised the administrator by how quickly those "in charge" descended into depravity. Uniforms and rules shaped guards and shock administrators' behaviors. Problems intensified if shock administrators were told their subjects were "animals" by an "authority," masks were worn (liberated hostile impulses), and on the night shift (relief from boredom, sense less subject to outside observation). Diffusing responsibility (eg. experiment leader saying he/she would take responsibility) also acerbated the situation.
Prisoners experienced a loss of personal identity and subjected to arbitrary control of their behavior, as well as deprived of privacy and sleep developed passivity, dependency, and depression. Those scoring highest on conventionality and authoritarianism did best.
Zimbardo then devotes much of "The Lucifer Effect" so analyzing Abu Ghraib and other abuse situations in light of his Stanford experiment findings. He found documentation of about 400 Iraq abuse cases - Abu Ghraib was not an isolated incident. Discussion and investigation showed that the Army failed to provide adequate to-down constraints to prevent prisoner abuse, and set an agenda and procedures that encouraged dehumanization and deindividualization that stimulated guards to act in creatively evil ways. Our suspending Geneva Conventions and military rules of conduct vs. prisoners was part of this.
Brigadier General Karpinski was in charge of the 10,000-some prisoners plus staff - despite lacking experience running any kind of prison system. She soon retreated to a safer location near the airport, was absent much of the time, and failed to bring in any outside expertise. Another problem was the confused chain of command - the location of most abuse (Tier 1A) was supposedly under control of civilian interrogators who repeatedly urged the MPs to "soften up" the prisoners and had killed at least one prisoner through abuse and then covered it up. Lt. Col. Pappas' (another one of the Abu Ghraib leaders) driver had been killed by a mortar, leaving Pappas traumatized - never taking off his flak jacket or helmet, even while showering, and resulting in his being declared "not combat fit." Soldiers were housed on site in cramped, rat-infested quarters - subject to mortaring, eating MREs instead of cafeteria food, and 12-hour work days for at least 40 days without relief. Sanitation facilities were woefully inadequate, and made worse by the heat. Guard dislike of the prisoners was further intensified by instances where Iraqi guards were bribed to give weapons to inmates who then used them on the Americans.
Zimbardo concludes that Bush et al were responsible for redefining torture as acceptable, and failing to follow-up most accusations of mis-treatment - especially at the officer level. Instead, Gitmo abuse techniques were imported and encouraged.
"The Lucifer Effect" ends with suggestions on how to encourage goodness in others and ourselves, as well as how to resist falling into behaviors exhibited at Abu Ghraib, within Nazi Germany, and many other locations.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2007
Whether you are spiritually inclined or lead by logic & reason this is a great read. It is based primarily on research and objective data though Zimbardo makes his own personal judgments as well.
For me it confirms some theories but introduces ideas that were new to me, including the extent of systemic influence. He examines the significance of individual disposition, situational disposition & systemic forces in a person's tendency to good and/or evil.
For me it gets a little laborious halfway through because of the density of data and analysis. However, its relevance is acute and it's a very timely publication with Global implications. It calls into question the individual and collective responsibility for good and evil acts. And addresses current issues like the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib & the role the Bush administration has in the atrocities that continue to surface as a result. He pulls no punches.
Ironically enough, the information in this book can be used for good & evil. It can help you rise above your environment or exploit it.
I highly recommend it. It's a handbook to human nature.