The Lucifer Effect

Stanford prison experiment

Zimbardo’s book, The Lucifer Effect, gets its title from the metamorphosis of Lucifer into Satan. Though the Christian Scriptures do not make this claim, according to Christian legend, Lucifer was once God’s favorite angel until he challenged God’s authority and was cast into Hell with all the other fallen angels. Thus, Zimbardo derives this title to explain how good people turn evil. Zimbardo’s main assumption on why good people do awful things is due to situational influences and power given from authority.

The Lucifer Effect was written in response to his findings in the Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo believes that personality characteristics could play a role in how violent or submissive actions are manifested. In the book, Zimbardo says that humans cannot be defined as “good” or “evil” because we have the ability to act as both especially at the hand of the situation. According to Zimbardo, “Good people can be induced, seduced, and initiated into behaving in evil ways. They can also be led to act in irrational, stupid, self-destructive, antisocial, and mindless ways when they are immersed in ‘total situations’ that impact human nature in ways that challenge our sense of the stability and consistency of individual personality, of character, and of morality.”

He also notes that we as humans wish to believe in unchanging goodness of people and our power to resist situational and external pressures and temptations. In chapter 12, “Investigating Social Dynamics: Power, Conformity, and Obedience”, Zimbardo discusses that peer pressure, the desire to be ‘cool’, the fear of rejection, and simply being a part of a group are the focal points to acting preposterous to your character.

In The Journal of the American Medical Association, Zimbardo’s situational perspective received support from other social situational experiments that demonstrated the same idea and concept. Almost ten years prior to the Stanford Prison Experiment (1971), Stanley Milgram conducted research on obedient behavior in 1965 that embraced situational forces. Milgram had “teachers” that delivered mock electric shocks to the “learner” for every wrong answer that was given in a multiple choice test. The teachers however did not know that the electric shocks weren’t real but still continued to deliver them to the learner. At the end of the experiment, 65% of men ages 20–50 complied fully up to the very last voltage. In the same room as the teacher, there was a “confederate” that kept tabs on the teacher and if they were delivering the shocks to each wrong answer. In the beginning of the study, participants signed a waiver that clearly explained the ability to opt-out of the experiment and not deliver the shocks. But with the surprising result rate of teachers who did continue to shock the learners, there was a situational force. The situational force that influenced the teachers to continue was the voice of the confederate egging them on by phrases such as, “I advise you to continue with this experiment” or “I am telling you to continue delivering the shocks” and the one that caught most teachers was “You must continue with the shocks.” Although the teachers knew that they could leave the experiment at any point in time, they still continued when they felt uncomfortable because of the confederate’s voice demanding to proceed.

Both Milgram and Zimbardo’s experiment tested situational forces on an individual. Both results concluded that irrational behavior compared to one’s character is plausible for any human because we have both tendencies in our nature.

— Wikipedia on Philip Zimbardo

2014.06.23 Monday ACHK