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on February 13, 2017
Part of coursework. It came across as somewhat rationalizing what really is unacceptable behavior whether by groups or the individuals within. The theory seems to rest largely on the phenomena of groupthink or mob mentality as a possible cause of abusive/inhumane acts within structured environments; in my opinion. The Stanford Prison Experiment seems to further develop upon what was demonstrated in Asch Conformity Exp. and Milgram experiments. The nature/nurture argument continues to be up for debate in society as a whole, I think it may help explore that topic with some objectivity. The Stanford Prison Experiment does shed some light on what may possibly influence people to commit possibly unthinkable acts outside generally acceptable cultural and social norms (cruelty). There is a point as in Pavlov, Milgram, and Stanford Prison experiment(s) where ethical boundaries are blurred in the name of greater understanding of human behavior and that may be open for debate in this case as well as it was stopped. I bought this one used, and was from a 2007 printing, there were references and a few chapters updated to reflect and analyze current events. I assume the newest edition may be edited and updated beyond as well.
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A book everyone must read. Let me rephrase- a study every educated person should know about in some detail .Of all the things that have been written about this study, the one I find the most intriguing is that the vast majority of the volunteers hoped to be assigned the "prisoner role". The guard and the prisoner roles were randomly assigned, during an era when many young people had lifestyles and ideals for which they could conceivably be arrested. As such, a number of volunteers voiced the opinion that "the experiment" would be good practice for them, if they were ever incarcerated, to learn to be strong and conduct themselves with integrity.
What really happened, and how quickly the veneer of civilization wore off as soon as "guard" roles were designated is chilling, but well worth reading.
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on June 9, 2016
Here's how to attempt to avoid going along for the ride. Far reaching, motivating and well worth more than one read. I'm taking this one slowly because while the writing is great the subject matter is challenging and thought provoking. I'll be going back to this one again and again. Thanks Dr.Zimbardo for your lifetime of work and thought on this theme.
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on December 23, 2015
I must say I had high expectation for this book. Unfortunately, the 500 pages used to discuss Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment and the underlying psychological principles behind "How Good People Become Evil" could have been condensed into 100-200 pages.

If, like me, you were looking forward to delving deep into the psychological aspects of this hypothesis I fear you may be disappointed.
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VINE VOICEon March 13, 2011
This is the only book I've read that actually tracks the transformation of ordinary "nice" people into sadistic tormenters. So many other books, such as Hannah Arendt's "The Origins of Totalitarianism," provide more abstract philosophical and historical explanations of how ordinary people come to perpetrate atrocities. But with this book, the reader can actually see it happening, step-by-step.

Often the transformation isn't a slow progression. As Zimbardo demonstrates, it can happen in one overnight leap, given certain situational triggers. The whole premise of this book is that situational factors are usually more decisive than dispositional factors in producing bullies, torturers, and holocaust perpetrators. He argues that circumstances, rather than individual personality flaws, cause people to do evil things. In that respect, Zimbardo would disagree with Shakespeare. He might paraphrase Shakespeare by declaring, "The trouble is not in us, but in our stars."

He makes a good case. When I first paged through this book, I was a little disappointed to see over half of it taken up with a detailed account of the results of his 1970's "Stanford Prison Experiment." Back then, he randomly assigned average students to play the role of either guards or prisoners in his mock-up of a prison. It was shocking to see how thoroughly the students assumed these roles. The "prisoners" became submissive and disoriented, forgetting that they could assert their rights and gain freedom. More shocking yet, the "guards" became overbearing and creative in inventing torments and sexual humiliations for the prisoners. So I soon saw how necessary this lengthy description of the Experiment was. It does go a long way toward proving Zimbardo's point about how evil derives, not from a few bad apples in a barrel, but from the contortions enforced by a badly constructed barrel.

I can't say that Zimbardo totally convinced me. The question remains: Why does tyranny seem to be the default setting of so many humans? Given a certain degree of anonymity and authority, why don't people break out in excesses of goodness rather than excesses of cruelty? When people are given a clean slate and are able to build their own barrels from scratch - why do they so often duplicate the tyrannies they wanted to start afresh from in the first place? Zimbardo's theory doesn't tackle these questions.

However, as he moves on from describing his 1970's Experiment to describing the infractions that occurred at Abu Ghraib and numerous other real prisons, he provides some concrete suggestions for averting human rights violations in the future. While it might be emotionally satisfying to blame individuals, that never seems to result in any sustained improvement in conditions.

So this very readable book, with its practical proposals for building a better barrel, offers the only way I've come across of effecting any real change for the better. Zimbardo's way might be the only path to a kinder, gentler world.

The book also includes extensive notes and bibliography to point you to further reading on the subject of how the average person can become a torturer and a villain - and techniques for preventing that sort of descent into madness.
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on October 27, 2014
This book, and another by Gabor Mate (In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts) should be mandatory reading for any and all with decision-making authority in the judicial system - particularly judges and prosecutors in the juvenile court system! For any person in a position of authority really, not just those in the legal system.

So many lives are derailed or ruined because those with the power to surveil, label, control, and incarcerate are so fully under the spell of dispositional explanations of behavior, because they cannot fathom how situational pressures they themselves are not immune to can overwhelm and undue character, and because they stubbornly insist on remaining ignorant of their own vulnerability to, and complicity in creating and maintaining, a system that conceives of and legitimizes situations that lead ordinarily good people down the path to evil.

Because I am convinced of the dangers inherent in relying on exclusively dispositional explanations for human behavior, because I am convinced that a great deal of unnecessary suffering can be attributed to this fallacious reasoning about causes, and because Dr. Zimbardo's book is such a compelling and captivating read, I teach The Lucifer Effect in my Introduction to Ethics course as a foil for traditional views of evil acts as arising strictly from a defective character (a failure to cultivate virtues of character or the abscence of a good will, for instance).

It is not, as Zimbardo insists, that character does not matter, but rather that situations do. And dramatically so. Acknowledging this does not make ethics irrelevant and it does not doom human beings to a kind of situational determinism. Instead, accepting the role situations play in our conduct, for better and worse, is the necessary first step in the process of building characters that, while never immune to situational evil, are highly resistant to it. It is also the precursor to redesigning social institutions (systems) that construct situations which nurture and promote kindness, helpfulness, courage, and empathy to replace those which currently foster their opposites.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is troubled by the amount of misery and violence in societies worldwide, to those whose lives touch and shape the lives of children, prisoners, soldiers - oh, heck, for anyone who is not living in complete isolation from systems, situations, and other people. Basically, everyone should read this book!
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on April 21, 2013
This book is an excellent exploration of the role situational factors impact behavior. It is a frightening read, one that left me evaluating myself, and my ability to detect and defend against situational influences. It is well written, well paced, easy to read, flows well, and keeps your attention effectively. But there are two caveats.

Just so you are warned, this Book contains very graphic material. Graphic depictions of Violence, Horrific sexual abuse, and strong language. If you are easily offended, this book may be too much for you.

A second warning regarding the author himself. He does a very good job of calling attention to situational influence. He shows just how much people can be 'corrupted' by situational factors. He details the results of numerous experiments, and demonstrates the similarities between the experiments and real world events quite effectively.... to a point. Specifically, in Chapter fifteen, as he analyzes Abu Ghraib, and demonstrates how situational forces trumped dispositional qualities in the individuals involved, right up until he gets to the top of the Chain of command. unfortunately, at this point, his personal political views prevent him from completing the situational analysis. This is really too bad, as he does such an excellent job of it up to this point. It would have been so much better if he could have completed the circle. Fortunately, his personal prejudices are relatively easy to spot, and with that knowledge, the attentive reader can work it out on their own. It is certainly not something that detracts from the book, just something to be mindful of so as not to miss the bigger picture.
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on September 3, 2016
You think you would act differently but would you?...... It's a bit slow in places but the subject matter of the book and the results of this experiment are amazing and surprising.
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on October 25, 2016
A lot of this book goes on to talk about the SPE (Stanford Prison Experiment), which is fine, but it does tend to get a little bit tedious. Zimbardo could have made do with half of the information about the experiment that he did.
Everything does tie in nicely together at the end though.
The book does a great job of masterfully bringing in everything together, experiments related to the SPE, the SPE itself, and what it all means to a great conclusion. It is a harrowing one; that everyone has the capacity for evil, but the last chapter in this book explains the flip side of that, which is that we all have the capacity for good as well.
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on August 11, 2010
The transition, within two days, of normal college students into sadistic beasts on one side and passive victims on the other chilled me because of the ease by which they fell into those roles when the students found themselves in the right set of circumstances. I found myself contemplating the parallels of the experiment's results and the behaviors it revealed and the snippets I've read of what happens inside of cults like Jim Jones' People's Temple and even larger political societies whose behavior seems so foreign and bizarre that I still have difficult relating to it.

The scope of the discussions of the studies which followed had the same implications in that being human means being capable of evil, and I found myself noticing all the little ways people give over to it every day from the level of office politics to a breezy contemplation of war with some 'other'.

After about three hundred pages, this scope shrunk until it had focused on a single target - Bush, and as the scope shrunk, the level of scholarship dropped as well. This reached an end when Dr. Zimbardo's meticulous research on evil descended into advice on heroism from a 'street-wise' kid from New York.

The transition was jarring and, for me, damaged the persuasiveness of the earlier chapters, but even so, I still recommend this book and, minus the final three chapters, believe Dr. Zimbardo has revealed something which will be with me for a long time.
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