[The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School]
[The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil]
It's not only a remarkable introduction but
it used to be in the old days, to give a lecture required a piece of chalk and a
blackboard. Now it takes a village.
Fifty-seven people. High technology. To give the same talk
that I used to give when I was a kid.
I'm so happy to be here. And so happy
so many of you could come. I know it's Passover.
I know it's the women's championship game. I know it's raining.
And so it makes me feel really good that you all came.
What I want to do is a lot of things today and
and I think we have an hour and a half to do them in.
I do want to thank some of my former students and dear friends and
and publishers of my textbook "Psychology and Life"
and "Core Concepts in Psychology"
from Allyn & Bacon across town.
I'm going to spend some time with them tomorrow.
So thank you all for coming.
Let me begin back on April 28th 2004. That's where
the Lucifer Effect was born.
Because I was in Washington
I belonged to an organization called the Council of Scientific Society Presidents.
The President of every one of the sixty major scientific societies
chemistry, biology, physics, etc. etc.
And Psychology. It's the only soft, soft science.
Meets twice a year there. And I
was actually elected President of that group,
so I was President of the Presidents.
And while I was in Washington for this meeting,
I turned on the television, which I rarely do, I rarely have time.
And here were these horrific images on 60 Minutes.
And these were the images coming out of Abu Ghraib.
People piled up naked in pyramids and
the famous one with the guy on a box
with the electrodes on his fingers.
Pictures of dogs, you know, about to attack the prisoners.
Picture after picture, and it was incredible. And then
what was more incredible was
the soldiers put themselves in the pictures.
Not only male soldiers but female soldiers.
And this was incredible, how can, you know...
why would anyone...what were they thinking?
The moment you were in the picture, you were automatically guilty.
And then immediately after the showing, up comes
the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers saying
"It's a few bad apples, a few rogue soldiers."
"We have no evidence it's systemic."
"The military is great" and on and on and on and on and on...
And President Bush got on right away and says
"We're going to get to the bottom of this"
paren. that means we're never going
to get to the top of this.
[Laughter] And on it went.
What was done was really
inexcusable, it was not inexplicable.
And I was shocked but I was not surprised. Because I
saw all of those images before.
Not the pyramid, not the naked pyramid
but prisoners stripped naked, prisoners with bags over their heads.
Guards making prisoners engage in sexually degrading activities.
Those were part of the Stanford Prison Experiment thirty-five years ago.
And so, what I knew about the Standford Prison Experiment
which I'm going to describe in some detail
today. And I do in excruciating detail in the book.
Ten chapters worth.
Is that I knew on August 14, 1971
that every boy who went into that prison was a good apple.
Because we gave them psychological tests etc. etc.
And what I...what the study is all about is how
good people can be corrupted by a situation.
So I said, before I'm ready to accuse American soldiers
of being bad apples,
I would really like to know something about their personality.
But more importantly I would like to know something about the barrel.
But how is that ..how is that going to do that? I'm a Professor.
This is Baghdad. This is all this...eh
And so...a student of mine
from introductory psych. at Stanford
...working for NPR
also remembered I showed those pictures in my class,
tracked me down. And I got on NPR.
And I said
"I'm countering the bad barrel...bad apple
metaphor with the bad barrel."
Well that got stirred up, they love soundbites in the media
And one of the people who was listening was
Gary Myers, who was the legal counsel for one of the soldiers.
Sgt. Chip Frederick. He calls me up,
he says "We would like you to be on our defense team."
I didn't have time to get involved in that and I said
"Of course. Yes. Sure."
Because now I could find out about the guy,
I could find out about the situation.
And I could also find out about what was the system
that created that situation.
So I then switched from being a psychologist, to
an investigative reporter.
And that's what...what I'm going to talk about today in part.
So my talk is, actually before I do the book
I call this the Lucifer Effect and you will see why
And it's really understanding, is the key word
how good people
or it could be ordinary people, average people, normal people
first begin to behave in ways
that we could...we could label as evil.
The question about "Why do people go wrong" is a question we've asked
from time endlessly.
Philosophers have asked, theologians have asked,
historians have asked. Psychologists never ask those
kinds of questions.
We like to ask very specific questions because
we have a lot of very specific techniques for answering them.
And we leave these big questions up to the other people.
A little aside...
When I was a student at Brooklyn College,
where I did my undergraduate work,
I wanted to be a psychologist.
As a Freshman because I had been a
kind of street psychologist growing up in the Bronx.
Because it's all about street smarts and
who you can trust and who you can't trust.
Until I took my first course in introductory psych.
and I got a C.
C is not so bad, except I never got a C in any other course.
From Kindergarten through graduate school.
And I got the C because the text was boring,
the lectures were boring, the tests were boring. And
psychology was boring.
This was 1950.
And so I said at the time,
If I was ever a teacher, I would never give a boring lecture.
If I ever wrote a book, I would never write a boring book.
And if I ever did psychology, I would never do boring psychology.
And so I switched into sociology, anthropology,
and they asked BIG questions like that.
But they never have an answer,
Because they have no good method [Laughter]
[Laughter] [Zimbardo laughs]
So I switched back into psychology senior year and said "You know what?"
Why don't we ask the big question and then,
use the technique that psychologists have
experimental research, really good assessment.
And so I realized that
we leave the study of institutions to anthropologists
to...to um... sociologists, the political scientists.
And Psychologists study the scientific behavior of individuals.
And nobody studies the person in the institution.
We spend our lives in institutions: in families,
in schools, in hospitals, in prisons,
and jobs... and then we end up in old age homes. At least
some people do.
And nobody is really studying how do...how are institutions
And in some cases, how do individuals shape institutions?
So that's been my long-term goal and development.
So I want to start with this illusion from introductory Psych.
Many of you know it. It's from the artist M.C. Escher.
And if you look at it for a minute.
It's a figuregrammed illusion.
Some of you will focus automatically on the white.
And see angels.
Some of you will focus on the black and see devils.
Take a minute just to look, then see if you can see both.
So if you focus on the white,
you see here's wings, and here's a little tutu and
and they're floating around. It's a world
full of goodness and angels.
Now for a minute, let's focus in on
And there's the world full of devils, with the horns.
Here's the horns, the wings.
And tells us several things, the world
is filled with good and evil. The world has always been filled
with good and evil. And the world
will always be filled with good and evil.
Because good and evil are part of the human condition.
But it tells us something else.
Those of you who have some religious background will remember that
God's favorite angel was Lucifer.
Lucifer means the light.
In the scriptures he's called the "Morning Star".
We don't know why he was the favorite, but he was the favorite.
And...when god created Adam,
God said all angels have to bow down before Adam.
All angels have to honor him.
Lucifer said "No way."
I'm prior to him. I'm an angel, he's a mortal.
And I refuse.
So that is the sin of pride and the sin of disobedience.
And God sends Michael the archangel
... to battle Lucifer,
other Angels agreed with Lucifer
and Lucifer loses. They kick him out and
paradoxically it was God who created hell.
And of course, what did the devil do?
So this is the ultimate cosmic transformation
of God's favorite angel into the Devil.
It can't be a more extreme tranformation.
And what does the devil do?
The devil proves he was right and God was wrong.
How does he do it? He shows how easy it is to corrupt Adam and Eve.
Have a little snake. Let's eat the apple.
She eats the apple. She tells the guy. " Hey I ate the apple"
"You eat the apple too. I don't want to go down alone"
And [Laughter] and so he's right.
You should not honor Adam because he's corruptible.
And so...that...part of my mission is
to recover the reputation of Lucifer.