The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Previously recorded at the “Thinking Humanity” conference, and available here. Accompanying slides are also available here.
Professor Phil Zimbardo said goodbye to Stanford today in a farewell lecture on his signature issue, the psychology of evil. Entitled “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,” his talk was a guest lecture for Psychology 1 students, but he attracted so many other fans and students eager to hear him speak once more, that the TAs for the course began to block the doors, allowing only Psych 1 students in and challenging people entering to name their TA.
Zimbardo was introduced by Psych 1 Professor Benoit Monin, also a social psychologist, who said that many departments have “fairy godmothers” who help nurture and train the students and scholars there. Zimbardo, however, was more like a “godfather,” or, rather, THE Godfather. As a token of the department’s appreciation, Monin presented Zimbardo with a symbolic black hat, which Zimbardo promptly wore. Zimbardo then proceeded humorously to give Monin the famous Godfather “kiss of death.”
Appropriate enough for a psychologist who studies evil.
Zimbardo then followed up on Monin’s act by presenting him with a symbolic Native American baton, his way of “passing the baton” on to Monin’s younger generation.
After the short introduction, Zimbardo dove right into his lecture on the situational, environmental, and systematic factors that can seduce people into committing acts or causing others to commit acts that humiliate, degrade, or harm other people. The lecture is based on his groundbreaking social psychology research, which culminated in the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971, and he uses it to analyze the notorious abuses at the American prison in Abu Ghraib, Iraq.
Toward the end of the lecture, Zimbardo mentioned, almost under his breath, that high officials in the Bush administration, including Donald Rumsfeld, should be tried for crimes against humanity. They deliberately chose the policies that created the conditions for torture, and even specifically approved many of the tactics.
Zimbardo concluded on a humorous note, telling people to listen to the “real” Dr. Phil (himself), not that other one. He also pointed the audience toward his new book, which is scheduled to be in bookstores at the end of this month.
In an e-mail before the event to Stanford Amnesty’s blog on America’s use of torture, Zimbardo had these parting words:
Seems like a moment ago when I was nervously preparing my first lecture at Yale College back in 1957, as the first graduate student in psychology to be allowed to teach his own introductory psychology course to the “Yale Men.”
Somehow, fifty years has gone by teaching that course from small seminars to large lectures with 1,000 students, and it has always been a joy and a challenge to make it work better for each new generation of students. I have been able to keep up my scholarship in this ever-changing discipline by writing the textbook for the course, Psychology and Life, now in its 18th edition.
I shall miss my daily contacts with my students and the many dedicated teaching assistants, but will work at staying young at heart by challenging injustice and inequity wherever it exists, notably now through my new book, which will be the topic of this farewell lecture, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.