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Philip Zimbardo

The Lucifer Effect

We tend to think of goodness or badness as inate to a person's character. Philip Zimbardo disagrees, and in The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil he shows how the situations people find themselves in play a large part in how they behave.

The book starts with a description of the Stanford Prison Experiment, where a group of students were split into 'guards' and 'prisoners' for a two week period - except that they took to their new roles so completely that the experiment was terminated after a few days. Zimbardo goes on to discuss other experiments showing how easily people adopt roles determined by what is going on around them, with a detailed description of his involvement in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse investigations.

Its a long book and I had worried that I might get bogged down in the story of the SPE before getting on to the discussion of other examples. In fact this was the most gripping part of the book, and it was towards the end of that I found myself flagging, in particular the long Abu Ghraib chapters. The last chapter on resisting situational influence seemed to be more about defining the word 'Hero'. In summary, the book has an important message, but don't feel that you have to read it all the way to the end.

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Paperback 576 pages  
ISBN: 0812974441
Salesrank: 6234
Weight:0.97 lbs
Published: 2008 Random House Trade Paperbacks
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Paperback 576 pages  
ISBN: 1846041031
Salesrank: 9325
Weight:0.93 lbs
Published: 2008 Rider
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Paperback 576 pages  
ISBN: 0812974441
Salesrank: 4517
Weight:0.97 lbs
Published: 2008 Random House Trade Paperbacks
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Product Description
The definitive firsthand account of the groundbreaking research of Philip Zimbardo—the basis for the award-winning film The Stanford Prison Experiment

Renowned social psychologist and creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo explores the mechanisms that make good people do bad things, how moral people can be seduced into acting immorally, and what this says about the line separating good from evil.

The Lucifer Effect explains how—and the myriad reasons why—we are all susceptible to the lure of “the dark side.” 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. 

Here, for the first time and in detail, Zimbardo tells the full story of the Stanford Prison Experiment, the 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 that of 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. Like Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, The Lucifer Effect is a shocking, engrossing study that will change the way we view human behavior.

Praise for The Lucifer Effect

The Lucifer Effect will change forever the way you think about why we behave the way we do—and, in particular, about the human potential for evil. This is a disturbing book, but one that has never been more necessary.”—Malcolm Gladwell

“An important book . . . All politicians and social commentators . . . should read this.”The Times (London)

“Powerful . . . an extraordinarily valuable addition to the literature of the psychology of violence or ‘evil.’”The American Prospect

“Penetrating . . . Combining a dense but readable and often engrossing exposition of social psychology research with an impassioned moral seriousness, Zimbardo challenges readers to look beyond glib denunciations of evil-doers and ponder our collective responsibility for the world’s ills.”Publishers Weekly

“A sprawling discussion . . . Zimbardo couples a thorough narrative of the Stanford Prison Experiment with an analysis of the social dynamics of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.”Booklist

“Zimbardo bottled evil in a laboratory. The lessons he learned show us our dark nature but also fill us with hope if we heed their counsel. The Lucifer Effect reads like a novel.”—Anthony Pratkanis, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology, University of California


From the Hardcover edition.