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The Lucifer Effect

How Good People Turn Evil

Phillip Lombardo

Philosophical Q: is Evil in the Universe, the World, My Society or Me? Lombardo argues that evil is a product of the situation.

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Three psychological experiments:

1951 Asch conformity expt (length of ruler etc) showed that people could be led to deny the evidence of their own eyes, by a desire to conform. Authority of the group overrode evidence.

1963 Milgram expt subjects were prepared to give others lethal electric shocks when encouraged by authority figures.

1971 Stanford U. Prison expt (devised by Lombardo) showed that perfectly ordinary people could be turned into savage tyrants or cowering victims.

Student volunteers divided into prisoners or guards. The prisoners were taken to mock up jail where guards imposed a regime designed to humiliate. With horrific speed the guards turned into ever more creative abusers and prisoners turned into pathetic de-humanised wrecks. The knowledge that it was all artificial did nothing to arrest the rapid slide into barbarity. The expt was intended to run for two weeks but had to stop it after 6 days.

Lombardo testified on behalf of the Abu Ghraib guards. Authorities tried to blame 'bad apples' but L pointed out that no preceding history of cruelty. (Evidence was rejected - they got 8 years).

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