Saturday, 14 April 2007

The Lucifer Effect

Cuckoo pint at Goblin Combe (part one)

Philip Zimbardo's book is outstanding and deserves to be discussed seriously by the media and the opinion forming chattering classes. It is remarkably informative and easy to read.

Zimbardo discusses his Stanford Prison Experiment with the hindsight of thirty years, as well as other experiments (such as Milgram and Asch). There are many newer studies and a detailed account of Zimbardo's analysis of the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

Here are some quotations:

'Maybe each of us has the capacity to be a saint or a sinner, altruistic or selfish, gentle or cruel, dominant or submissive, perpetrator or victim, prisoner or guard. Maybe it is our social circumstances that determine which of our many mental templates, our potentials, we develop' (p297).

One of the factors that leads to bad behaviour is 'anonymity'.
'Anonymity can be conferred on the way that people are treated in given situations. When others treat you as if you are not a unique individual but an 'undifferentiated' other being processed by the System...[then] you feel anonymous. This ....can induce antisocial behaviour.' (p301).

Any system that encourages (or merely 'allows') people to behave anonyomously without responsibility for their actions and which permits 'antisocial behaviour' will encourage people to behave in increasingly extreme ways.

This could be a classroom or a website forum or even Abu Graib or Guantanamo Bay.


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