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How jobs, titles and situations bring out evil in people

Good, evil and the Stanford Prison Experiment - "evil is not a conscious choice"
Good, evil and the Stanford Prison Experiment - "evil is not a conscious choice"
Good, evil and the Stanford Prison Experiment – “evil is not a conscious choice”

Evil always dominates good

Evil is not always a conscious choice

The following is part II – the continuation of a transcript of an interview between Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, PhD and    Professor Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, speaking about the famous and controversial Stanford Prison Experiment and, revealing that people are wrong when thinking that good dominates evil and says “evil is not a conscious choice.” Click here to read Part I: 30 second payday loan ,guaranteed approval payday loan lendersgeneric levitra purchase

Professor Zimbardo: No, okay – in any one example, we have to look at, you know, the nature of the in – in The Lucifer Effect, my book, I say, in order to understand human behavior, we have to appreciate it at three levels: What does the individual bring into the situation? What does the situation bring out of the person? And what is the system that creates those situations?

So what people bring into the situation, you mentioned in the opening, there are psychopaths. I mean, there are people who have never learned to feel guilt, compassion, empathy. And a lot of the cruelty at the top of Idi Amin, maybe Saddam Hussein, other people like that, you know, that level of cruelty, that level of bestiality goes with the same thing as, you know, mass murderers, but you know, that’s a small percentage of all the people that do evil. Most people who do evil do it within the framework of their job. I mean, if you’re a guard at Auschwitz, it was your job to do certain kinds of – there were certain rules you had to follow, and you could execute somebody with no feeling because they violated rule number seven.

And you know, Hannah Arendt in her analysis of Adolf Eichmann who is in charge of the efficient execution of millions of Jews at Auschwitz, she said, “Everything we know about this man before he went to Auschwitz, he was normal.” Everything that we know about him since then – he was interviewed while he was on trial – normal It was only when he was put in that situation, given the job to – how do you efficiently eliminate so many people – that he then orchestrated these mass murders in a very efficient way. So he is a monster but only in that particular situation.

That’s the argument that I make about the Stanford Prison Study. We went to great lengths to pick out two dozen college students who were as normal and happy as possible based on a battery of psychological tests, clinical interviews, and then we randomly assigned them to be prisoners and guards. So we know on Day 1, August 14, 1971, we had only good apples that we put into a bad barrel. The bad barrel was modeled after the worst of American prisons. The question was does the goodness of the people – because they all started as good – did it dominate the badness of the place? And the answer was; no, quite the opposite.

Good, evil and the Stanford Prison Experiment - "evil dominates good"
Good, evil and the Stanford Prison Experiment – “evil dominates good”

Usually bad situations tend to dominate most people, not all, but the majority comply, conform, yield, give in. We don’t want to believe that because we want to believe people are basically good; they have free will to choose; and if you do evil, you choose to do evil. I’m saying that in most cases you are unaware. Evil is a slippery slope. You take a small first step and then the next step is a small step and then —

Patrick: Are you saying that it’s not a choice?Professor Zimbardo: No, no. It’s not a choice. It’s not always a choice. No it’s not conscious.

Patrick: But even if it’s unconscious or subconscious, isn’t it still a choice? What is the difference between the person – you mentioned, that reservist at Abu Ghraib —

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah.

Patrick: — who was the one that exposed it, so he made a conscious choice to say, “No.”

Professor Zimbardo: Oh, to be a hero is making a conscious choice. To be evil does not involve a conscious choice. To be evil is you’re part of a group, and suddenly they’re all doing this. They say, “Come on, join in” or “Take the picture” or “Hit this guy.” And most people do it without serious reflection. When I think of conscious choice, I think about serious reflection. I think about consequences and cost. Should I do it? Will I get caught? Is it the right thing to do? Is it the wrong thing to do? And I’m saying that most evil is done mindlessly. It’s done because everybody is doing it. It’s because it’s the thing to do in the situation. It’s because you want people to like you.

Patrick: All right. I would like to just jump in because I have some very important questions I want to ask you here. You’ve raised three points. One is, when you say, “Everyone else is doing it,” therefore we can get into a situation where we lose our sense of identity and individuality; we become part of the group —

Professor Zimbardo: Absolutely.

Patrick: –part of the —

Professor Zimbardo: Absolutely.

Patrick: Okay. And we’ve seen that in rock concerts where a whole crowd – or even at a soccer stadium or a football game —

Professor Zimbardo: Right.

Patrick: — where people go crazy and they lose control. [Recognized as mass identity.]

Click here for Part III – the continuation of this interview – How bullied victims become mass murderers:

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