Philip Zimbardo's The Lucifer Effect

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It can be impossible to imagine a situation in which a normal, healthy person would commit heinous, evil acts. Yet history is filled with examples of this phenomena. We read about slaves in America, Nazi Germany, and the My Lai massacre; perfect examples of dehumanization, torture, and murder. What could possibly cause someone psychologically normal to treat other human beings like vermin? The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo offers an explanation for how and why people can abandon their morals. I read the book which as much of an open mind as I could muster while reading such a hard-hitting topic. The book offered several insights to the psychology of people in certain situations. In the interest of…show more content…
Many of the examples of real world application were of horrific acts in history, such as the mass suicide caused by Jim Jones. I could not believe what I was reading. Completely sane people were coerced into killing themselves and their family. This was another event that I was entirely unaware of. It provided me with a representation of the deadly power of authority and the ease of corrupting someone’s mind. We are all aware that cults exist to this day. People are still coerced into destructive institutions if they are given the right amount of persuasion. Another example of the daunting power of obedience is the experiment by Stanley Milgram. I learned from that experiment that most of us are obedient to a fault. If the responsibility falls on someone else, many people will even obey commands to hurt another person. The next study mentioned was particularly interesting to me because it pertains to my career plans. I am a pre-medical student and the proceeding study examined the power-based relationship between doctors and nurses. The study indicated that nurses will often blindly follow an order given by a doctor even if they know that the order may be detrimental to a patient’s health (Zimbardo, 2007, p. 277). The Holocaust is never easy to read about, but the book offers a couple of lessons that can be learned. The first is that conformity is a powerful mode of influencing people. Psychologist Ervin Staub is quoted as stating that “Being part of a system shapes views, rewards adherence to dominant views, and makes deviation psychologically demanding and difficult.” (2007, p. 286) Therefore we can conclude that it is quite easy for ordinary people to get caught up in a system of such a bad nature. The second lesson is that dehumanization is an effective tool in making people abandon their humanity toward other

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