I liked this book: "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil" by Philip ZIMBARDO

A 500+ pages book, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil” by Philip ZIMBARDO is a book I recently read and liked.

Some things about the book. A quote from the web site of the book:

“In this book, I summarize more than 30 years of research on factors that can create a “perfect storm” which leads good people to engage in evil actions. This transformation of human character is what I call the “Lucifer Effect,” named after God’s favorite angel, Lucifer, who fell from grace and ultimately became Satan.

Rather than providing a religious analysis, however, I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts. As part of this account, The Lucifer Effect tells, for the first time, the full story behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, a now-classic study I conducted in 1971. In that study, normal college students were randomly assigned to play the role of guard or inmate for two weeks in a simulated prison, yet the guards quickly became so brutal that the experiment had to be shut down after only six days.”

So, it’s a book about an experiment at Stanford which showed how ordinary people can do terrible things.

To know more, you can read an interview with the book’s author about the book, read a book review, or another one, or see a video:

You can also see a much longer video on MIT’s web site. There’s even a video on TED.

Why is this devilish book so hot?

  • You might hate me for this, but the book is ultimately about me and you; yes, ordinary people can do incredible bad deeds in certain conditions; the book is thus a mirror in one’s thoughts and actions; yet the final image is not that pleasing;
  • Despite its length, it’s an engaging book, nice reading, loved to read it;
  • The author’s style is nice, I enjoyed to read the book – contexts were used a lot (about the time when the experiment was held, about other situations of Lucifer effect taking place), not that complicated words, good signaling of psychology knowledge (you learn about other stuff in psychology, also).

I especially liked the “Ten Lessons from the Milgram Studies: Creating Evil Traps for Good People”; these are procedures in that seduced many ordinary citizens to engage in harmful behavior:

1. Prearranging some form of contractual obligation, verbal or written, to control the individual’s behavior in pseudo legal fashion;
2. Giving participants meaningful roles to play (“teacher,” “learner”) that carry with them previously learned positive values and automatically activate response scripts;
3. Presenting basic rules to be followed that seem to make sense before their actual use but can then be used arbitrarily and impersonally to justify mindless compliance;
4. Altering the semantics of the act, the actor, and the action (from “hurting victims” to “helping the experimenter,” punishing the former for the lofty goal of scientific discovery);
5. Creating opportunities for the diffusion of responsibility or abdication of responsibility for negative outcomes; others will be responsible, or the actor won’t be held liable;
6. Starting the path toward the ultimate evil act with a small, seemingly insignificant first step, the easy “foot in the door” that swings open subsequent greater compliance pressures, and leads down a slippery slope;
7. Having successively increasing steps on the pathway that are gradual, so that they are hardly noticeably different from one’s most recent prior action. “Just a little bit more.”;
8. Gradually changing the nature of the authority figure (the researcher, in Milgram’s study) from initially “just” and reasonable to “unjust” and demanding, even irrational;
9. Making the “exit costs” high and making the process of exiting difficult by allowing verbal dissent (which makes people feel better about themselves), while insisting on behavioral compliance;
10. Offering an ideology, or a big lie, to justify the use of any means to achieve the seemingly desirable, essential goal;

In 1963, the social philosopher Hannah Arendt published what was to become a classic, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil“; a quote from that book, quoted by Philip ZIMBARDO:

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied… that this new type of criminal… commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or feel that he is doing wrong.

Finally, I really liked the text which showed real-life examples of heroes.

As a conclusion, I liked “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil” by Philip ZIMBARDO quite a lot.

I am a Freelancer. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading. I live in London, and lots of things live in me.

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