Phillip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect

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The Lucifer Effect by Phillip Zimbardo aims to provide psychological explanations in occurrences of evil. The book provides a framework to examine ordinary human transformations from good to evil. Zimbardo makes the point of stating that people should be held responsible for the actions they make, however, both situational and systemic factors should be observed. In this book review, I will use points of analytical framework to analyze the main points of Zimbardo’s text. To start, Zimbardo defines evil as “intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others – or using one’s authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf” (5). Throughout the text, he holds a conception…show more content…
These are factors that are outside of human control, such as the biological and psychological factors that are specific to an individual, as well as the structural factors that encompass the individual’s environment. Taking it further, he believes that the latter, the structural factors of the situation and the environment, are the biggest influences of why people can ‘turn’ good or evil. Zimbardo quotes Harvard psychologist Mahrzarin Banaji to explain his view, “What social psychology has given to an understanding of human nature is the discovery that forces larger than ourselves determine our mental life and our actions – chief among these forces [is] the power of the social situation”…show more content…
When a society is faced with an unusual behavior, an unexpected event, or some irregularity in their community that doesn’t make sense, they can attempt to understand it by one of two ways. The traditional approach, or the dispositional line of thinking, points to identifying inherent personal qualities that lead to ‘odd’ behavior. The individual’s genetic makeup, personality and character traits, free will, etcetera, are the focus to explaining human behavior. If an individual acts in a violent or criminal manner, society would look to find sadistic personality traits. If an individual acts in a heroic manner, society would point to traits that would show a predisposition towards altruism. The situational view, in contrast, asks about the conditions that could be contributing to certain behaviors, the circumstances that are involved in generating actions, and to what extent an individual’s actions can be traced to factors that are outside the actor. This latter view is the basis for Zimbardo’s work as he expands the focus from dispositional views of the world to how an individual’s character has the ability to transform via powerful situational forces. Humans and situations share a dynamic interaction – our demeanors and behaviors change depending on the people we are surrounded by, as well as the environment that we are
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