Posted by: istop4books | February 27, 2011

The Lucifer Effect, Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo

I bought this book with high hopes of understanding human nature and, while I clearly have to give the author credit for his remarkable studies, I found the book sorely lacking in a heavy-handed editing effort. Most of the book reads like the straight transcript of notes. This happened on such a date and such a time in such a way – for more than 200 pages of relentless minutiae of the Stanford Prison Experiment, with a bit of explanation thrown in here and there (which was the only thing which kept me going). In the end, between the prison experiment and Abu Ghraib, I STILL don’t understand why people change their behaviors, lose their values, endanger the very moral thread of their bodies. I understand that this is widespread, that good people do so, but not really why – or what makes some people succumb to evil behavior and others totally circumvent it.



  1. hi — found you in a ravelry forum, and so glad i did! i’m a social psychologist and know phil very well, and i can answer your question (though of course it just begs other questions). one reason people do what they do, and it’s a more potent reason than any of us want to admit, is that our social settings are so powerful. we don’t like to admit that, especially in our western O Yes I Can! culture. But that was the point of the Prison Study, the boys were randomly assigned to condition and the power of their situations profoundly shaped their behaviors. The Milgram studies showed that people have a very difficult time resisting authority. The Asch studies showed that people conform to what others are doing and saying, even if they believe it’s 100% wrong. Of course not everyone does this all the time, but the point is that the social situation is much more powerful than we like to think.

    Like I said, it still begs a thousand questions. When, who, where?

    But no one ever accused Phil of subtle presentations. 🙂 That’s for sure.

  2. Oh, thanks so much for posting! What I wonder is what makes one guy become so authoritarian, while another doesn’t? What makes one guy take the abuse while the other defies it? What part of their core values do they choose to disregard? Why don’t they listen to that voice in their brain telling them to pull back? And, of course, the million dollar question…… what would I do in that same situation.

  3. […] The Lucifer Effect, Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, Philip Zimbardo ( […]

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