What makes good people do bad things? How can moral people be seduced to act immorally? Where is the line separating good from evil, and who is in danger of crossing it? Renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo has the answers, and in The Lucifer Effect
Drawing on examples from history as well as his own trailblazing research, Zimbardo details how situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make monsters out of decent men and women. Zimbardo is perhaps best known as the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here, for the first time and in detail, he tells the full story of this landmark study, in which a group of college-student volunteers was randomly divided into guards and inmates and then placed in a mock prison environment. Within a week, the study was abandoned, as ordinary college students were transformed into either brutal, sadistic guards or emotionally broken prisoners. By illuminating the psychological causes behind such disturbing metamorphoses, Zimbardo enables us to better understand a variety of harrowing phenomena, from corporate malfeasance to organized genocide to how once upstanding American soldiers came to abuse and torture Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib. He replaces the long-held notion of the "bad apple" with the "bad barrel" - the idea that the social setting and the system contaminate the individual, rather than the other way around.
This is a book that dares to hold a mirror up to mankind, showing us that we might not be who we think we are. While forcing us to reexamine what we are capable of doing when caught up in the crucible of behavioral dynamics, though, Zimbardo also offers hope. We are capable of resisting evil, he argues, and can even teach ourselves to act heroically.
"Zimbardo challenges readers] to look beyond glib denunciations of evil-doers and ponder our collective responsibility for the world's ills." (
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Yes, if that friend is interested in psychology and/or theories about good and evil.
Zimbardo's theory is, in short, that there is no such thing as bad apples, only bad barrels. He explains this through the controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, and looks at other events (such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse) in this light. The Stanford Prison Experiment shows, as the Milgram experiment, that perfectly normal people are capable of doing very bad things under the right circumstances.
This is really something that should interest everyone, because most of us walk around with the idea of ourselves as someone who would never do anything evil - that we are fundamentally different from evil people. According to Zimbardo, we are all at risk of doing bad things, and he offers some insight on how to avoid it here.
Quite a lot of it is dedicated to the Stanford Prison Experiment, and everything else is based on this. It is a rather long book, slightly dry at times, but good overall. I found the descriptions of what went on in the "prison" interesting, but some people might be put off by the amount of detail put into this part. Other than that, it was thought-provoking to listen to the comparison between his experiment and real events, such as Abu Ghraib.
There have been made several documentaries about the Stanford Prison Experiment. My tag-line would probably be something about bad barrels. Or something... This is a weird question...
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