the lucifer effect


My first exposure to real social science came in my freshman year of college when I took Psych 101. I only clearly remember two cases from that class: the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment. Etched in my memory is the face of Philip Zimbardo, talking on the big-screen about the role that context plays in our behavior. Good people can begin doing very bad things given the right (or wrong) context. Although I didn’t realize it then, this freshman-level course began moving my intellectual interests in the direction of my future career.

Zimbardo recently retired and is now busily promoting his latest book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Zimbardo summarizes some of the content in that book in these posts at the Situationist (here, here, and here). On the lighter side, you should see Zimbardo on The Daily Show, yukking it up with Jon Stewart.

Written by brayden king

April 3, 2007 at 3:58 pm

Posted in brayden, psychology

5 Responses

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  1. Hmm, there’s a trend here – the book you mention, articles and books on jerks (HBR has had a couple recently), Bob Sutton’s book on a-holes is on various bestseller lists and getting lots of press etc.



    April 3, 2007 at 4:13 pm

  2. Hey, Lucifer is not a jerk; he’s just misunderstood.



    April 3, 2007 at 6:03 pm

  3. Well, there are a couple conflicting hypotheses out there: Jerks are jerks by nature (which Sutton in part suggests, I think), or, people ‘choose’ to become jerks, or, contexts make jerks. And, I guess related to the last one, we could also make jerks social constructions, so you could be right, perhaps they really aren’t jerks (in their world).



    April 3, 2007 at 6:14 pm

  4. In addition to the short Zimbardo clip there is also an entire movie based on the Stanford prison experiment, called “Das Experiment” (English subtitles only).

    Alas, some of the historical details fell victim to dramaturgy.



    April 4, 2007 at 7:15 am

  5. IMO “Political ponerology” by Andrew Lobachevsky is a much better book on the subject. The design of Stanford prison experiment is very poor and biased, and Zimbardo lacks scientific objectivity to a dergee that he should be ashamed of himself. AS much as he and his keel want to convince us, not all are capable of sadistic behavior. But sociopaths are, and it is natural for them. A good analysis of Zimbardo’s latest is here



    April 13, 2007 at 7:03 pm

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