Zimbardo - Essay Example

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There are always people who commit crimes, initiate wars, dehumanize and humiliate other people. However, there is also an opposite power of heroism which balances evil impulses in any…
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Good and Evil The good and evil are issues which are topical for both individuals and civilizations. There are alwayspeople who commit crimes, initiate wars, dehumanize and humiliate other people. However, there is also an opposite power of heroism which balances evil impulses in any community. For a long time, good and evil have been studied at the level of an individual ignoring external forces which make people act. In fact, the coincidence of personal distribution, situational and systemic influence in certain social context can make a good individual become bad.
Most people believe that they act according to their own values. If a person commits a crime, psychologists study this person in detail trying to identify what personal traits or events in biography forced motivated further criminal activities. Personal dispositions are not the only factor which makes an individual behave in a certain way. It is interesting to what extent social context motivates behavior of the individual. Surprisingly, it can become the major influence under certain circumstances. Dr. Zimbardo entitles this phenomenon of individual transformation Lucifer effect.
According to Zimbardo, “evil is the exercise of power to harm, hurt and destroy” something or someone. There are certain conditions when dominance becomes the way to cope with a huge stress. For instance, the Abu Ghraib prison tortures happened in totally stressful atmosphere. War motivated hatred between US soldiers and Iraqi prisoners. The prison building was bombarded during the day and all people experienced daily fear to die. They did not leave the prison at all (Zimbardo). As a result, they transformed their stress into dominance over the weak.
Zimbardo’s theory does not seek for the “bad apple”; it aims at finding a “bad barrel”. Any particular situation is a result of the system. If the system has some space for bad things to happen, they will happen. System can be represented by the organization, community group or the whole civilization. It involves a wide range of factors; cultural, legal and social norms restrain behavior of an individual (Zimbardo). In Abu Ghraib, the US military organization to control prisons was a failure. One person was assigned to control 3 prisons but she never showed up there; there was no supervision at all. People who worked in prisons had no day offs. They had 12 hour shifts and worked all day long. Higher rank officers ordered to torture the prisoners creating the situation of diffused responsibility. Functioning in that system required either confirming or rebelling; most people accepted those conditions because they wanted to survive.
If most people tend to follow the way prescribed by the “bad barrel”, it is interesting how heroes appear in the same dysfunctional system. In case of Abu Ghraib, one low rank soldier filed the CD to CIA investigation reporting about tortures. Obviously, there were many people who wanted to kill him for this act of heroism. Rebelling against the system always has its price and only some individuals can be heroes during their lives. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa are the examples of such heroes. In most cases heroism is also situational and relative, as well as evil. Some people have the ability to resist bad system and change it. In this way, they need to overcome passivity and act.
In summary, people are not either good or evil; they are both. They can have no sadistic deviations or mental disorders but there are many stressful situations which can make them act in a bad way. Zimbardo’s social psychology explains that the power of the situational and systemic influences is greater that individual dispositions. Not all people who do bad things are responsible for them; sometimes they are forced to act by the situation where they exist.
Works Cited
Zimbardo, Phillip G. “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil”. TechTV. April 2, 2007. Web. June 6, 2014. <>Read More
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