Philip Zimbardo is Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. His famous ground breaking work Stanford Prison Experiment now has been published in a very detailed a researched volume titled THE LUCIFER EFFECT. His research is based on the notion that Certain circumstances makes people bad and evil and he conducts a mock prison, to check his thesis, and the results are startling. Following is a passage from Chapter ONE of his book:
“The Lucifer Effect is my attempt to understand the process of transformation at work when good or ordinary people do bad or evil things. We will deal with the fundamental question ‘What makes the people go wrong?’ But instead of resorting to a traditional religious dualism of good versus evil, of wholesome nature versus corrupting nature, we will look at the real people engaged in life’s daily tasks, enmeshed in doing their jobs, surviving within a turbulent crucible of human nature. We will seek to understand the nature of their character transformations when they are faced with powerful situational forces.
Let’s begin with a definition of evil. Mine is simple, psychologically based one: Evil consists in intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanize, or destroy innocent others—or using one’s authority and systemic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your behalf. In short ,it is knowing better but doing worse.”
Most of us hide behind egocentric biases that generate the illusions that we are special. Theses self serving protective shields allow us to believe that each of us is above average on any test of integrity. Too often we look at the stars through the thick lens of personal invulnerability when we should also look down to the slippery slope beneath our feet. Such egocentric biases are more commonly found in societies that foster independent orientations, such as Euro-American cultures, and less so in collectivist-oriented societies, such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East.