Friday, April 8, 2011


In 1971, Philip Zimbardo, led an experiment popularly labelled as the Stanford Prison Experiment.  This study raises the fundamental question about human nature.  Their empirical theory was to test whether there is a possibility that average, healthy, intelligent and even good people, can become perpetrators of evil, when placed in certain situations that will encourage aberrant behaviours.

The study was pulled out prematurely (initially designed as a 2-week long study, the experiment was terminated in six days); and other initiatives to duplicate it have been discouraged with the exception of a few, because of ethical reasons.  Albeit most of the succeeding studies only substantiated what was already concluded from the Zimbardo experiment.  Even the "best of us" can be coerced into becoming evil and perform evil acts under the right social circumstances.
Doesn't this make you think?  Are you of the belief that people are naturally good unless proven otherwise, or otherwise?  Do you know yourself enough to say you would never allow yourself to behave according to the circumstances?  Are you a "cut above the rest"?
Are you immune to societal pressures and peer influences? Do you trust yourself enough to behave in accordance to what is deemed acceptable and respectable, even in the most trying, dire times?  Do you allow yourself to be a victim of circumstances or are you able to rise above it, and manage it at all times?
Are you familiar with the "evil of inaction"?  This is the new concept of evil in our current times; these are actions that support the perpetrators of evil, despite the knowledge of the wrong-doing, there is no action to challenge it.  
I am reminded of my Catholic education under the Jesuits; the sin of Commission, and the Sin of Omission.  Either way, it's a sin.
Do you know why it is called the Lucifer Effect?  According to the Bible, Lucifer is one of the preferred angels, but he chose to defy and challenge God's authority.  The study correlated its results to behaviours of people at war, of any type,  where man justify being inhumane to other men just because.

I still believe, there are a few, rare and far between though, ordinary people in our midst, who refuse to yield to the power of social influence.  It should be a tough ride to always choose to do the right thing; as some people would consider what is right, is wrong according to their own needs and perceptions. There are people who choose to take a stand and resist, the heroes and heroines; the ordinary "whistle-blower"; the guy who chose to stop and lend a helping hand; the people ready to do the right thing when the situation demands for it.
I end this post with a question, when the time comes for you to act as hero, are you willing to take it on?


  1. I knew not of this study but had a similar thought while watching a show called Justified. A US Marshall (a good doer) finds out his ex wife stole cash (she's a guvment M-ploy-ee)from evidence. We get to see a man who is morally good start to act against his nature in order to protect someone he loves. In doing so however he corrupts himself.

    I've always felt like most of us are one unpreventable situation away from going crazy.

  2. This post is so profound and has me pondering on your ending question - would I be the hero when the time comes? My answer would be, if I were wise enough to depend fully on the Lord's strength then yes. If I depended on my own resources? Heck no.

    This is an excellent post, PB, very thought provoking. It really does make you think...

  3. The experiment of course makes us all ask: What would I do, if it were me? And I think that the honest answer for most of us is that we don't really know. Would you pull the lever and inflict pain because a researcher instructs you to pull the lever? I agree with you that there are some people -- a small minority -- who would never pull the lever. The question deserves to be asked over and over again. Good post.

  4. I think i'm ok in this dept. Theres a show on tv about this, how people act under certain conditions and why. They had a black kid stealing a bike in a park and a pretty blonde stealing the same bike. People walking by called the cops on the black kid and sometimes tried to stop him themselves. In the case of the woman, Men riding bikes with thier wives stopped, and cut off the locks for the blonde while thier wives looked on in horror.
    This particular story is about racism and sexism, but it could just as well be about control and power, as in the experiments you mention. I think personally I am a pretty good guy and I have a second mind that questions acting in stupid ways and NOT ACTING when I know I should. I think it developed slowly and I'm glad it part of me. When we ourselves are in trouble and a knight comes to save us, sometimes its NOT because we are a damsel in distress, but because they really are a prince just trying to help others our of a tough situation, and expecting no reward. Great post PBB :)

  5. Very good analysis Psycho and questions we might have to face one day.
    I always found it us easy to talk, to say "I would never do this" or " In this case I would have done this". But when we have to step into action it is different.
    We have a song in France by a well-known author who says something in those lines (I give you the name maybe you could find a translation - Goldman Jones Fredericks: Né En 17 a Leidenstadt).

    It says: "We will never know what we have inside us - Hidden behind our appearances - the soul of a brave, a accomplice or a butcher, or the worst or the best – Would we be the ones who resist or the ones who follow the other sheep? – That life spares us as long as possible to have to choose one side”

    Depending on our life circumstances, we can all react differently to a situation. I would dream to be an heroin, but do I have enough Faith and Strength to face the worst, I cannot be sure..........
    It always reminds me of families who saved Jewish children during World War II, risking their own life. And on the other side, some who accept to help Nazis to save their Life. We say, I say, we would never have accepted to collaborate but who knows really…………………….

    Thanks for sharing this today – lots of things for us to think about.

  6. Psycho, you bring up an intriguing dilemma, and one that has been debated for millennia. I do believe that we, as humans, are corruptible, all of us. 'There but for the grace of God go I' is very real, very much a daily struggle. And, should any like to think otherwise, you have studies like this one to prove our own corruptibility.

  7. Psycho, very thought provoking post, my friend and you leave us with a very difficult question.

    I dont know the answer. I feel if it conflicts with my own survival instinct or the survival of those I love, I may not be the hero. But is it due to evil or its more powerful counterpoint..i.e fear? I think fear has a greater role in corrupting, than evil. You know my take, sis, I dont think evil exists. Its always fear that makes us do stuff that deviates us from our divine nature.

  8. Psycho,
    your writings are so deep & interesting....It's like taking a philosophy class again....I love this class! And I love you :) !!!!!

  9. Tough one, and I have no answer for you. Honestly, I can try and convince both you and me that I would, but only such an event would tell you the truth.
    I do stop for hitchhikers when my insides tell me I should. But who knows what war and the like, would do to anyone's psyche.
    I would like to also say that as I read your post, I wondered why the studies were allowed to be cancelled, but the training of soldiers, who do these things daily and are conditioned to make themselves believe it is ok, is allowed to go on.

    Thanks again for a thought provoking post.

  10. I really want to answer that question...and the right way. Provocative stuff, Psycho. Love it.

  11. this was great psycho ... i think about insanity and evil every day. i can be drawn into the insanity of evil behaviour and must take stock of myself frequently.

    like today ... i really was the loon even though i thought the zealot was the nutbar ...

    but awesome post to read. good people can definitely do evil

  12. In my mind I like to think I am in control. But when a real crisis situation happens, I wish I can make all the right decisions.
    It is just a wish because this is really a hard question to answer.
    I think you need faith, in a Supreme Being and in yourself, to do what is right.

  13. This is amazing article about human nature.Is a good human becomes bad?That's really strange but a human doesn't understand himself/herself.

  14. Very thought provoking post. Made me think about different people growing up in different neighborhoods. Is it nature or nurture? Do you go along with the crowd? When do you stand up for what YOU believe and not your friends/family? I've known few people who have grown up in bad parts of town and turn out to be really good people. Sadly, I don't think many people have the guts to do the right thing. We need better examples and role models, in my opinion.

  15. Did you watch The Experiment ( It deals with everything you just said here. Under right circumstances, all men turn into animals. (& I really don't like to use the term animals as something bad, I don't think there are "evil" animals, they are creatures of instinct, they don't act in terms of good and bad).

  16. This reminds me of a famous study called the Milgram experiment.

  17. Hi Drone: there are a lot of experiments related to this but they have all been banned for ethical reasons. Yeah, we are almost just a step away from going crazy. So we better hang on tight whilst we can.
    Hi Anne, Amen. We can't do this entirely on our own.
    Hello Coltin, I am glad we can count on a few people like you when the going gets tough. :)
    Hi Rivercat, thank you for your insights.
    Hi Marie, I dread the day when the situation is up close and personal. It is hard enough to cope with the daily crisis of our lives, it is harder when a situation requires us to make a stand.
    Hello Drachma, you just stated a tragic but undeniable truth about man. Yes. We are corruptible.
    Hello JM, I know what you mean when the people we love most are placed on the line. We don't know what we can be capable of doing to protect them. Reminds me of a Book by Grisham when he was a non-commercial writer; A Time To Kill.
    Hi Kim, I love you back. <3
    Hello Nayda, I appreciate the honesty. It is truly difficult to predict, even our own behaviour in the most trying times.
    Hello Cayman, I know my introspective friend. It does require deep thought. thank you.
    Dear Big A., there's a thin line that separates us from insanity, and believe me, we cross it all the time.
    Hi Trickie, yes, we do need something or someone to hold onto. Faith is a start.
    Hello Kristen, "role models" have become an absolutely rare breed. There aren't just enough these days.
    Hello Adrienne, I never saw the full length movie yet, but I would love to watch it.
    Hi Digital Desperado, yes, a bit similar, the Milgram Experiment was a study on Obedience to Authority. It must have been a decade earlier than the Zimbardo one, and if I recall correctly, this was a Yale U. research.

    Thank you all for making time to write your insights and comments. I am truly grateful for these because it enriches my post.

  18. Hey psycho,
    wow ur posts are definitely thought provoking, i have to think about it before i can comment :p
    In the meantime, do you know how i could increase my blog's "popularity"? i would love to expand but im not sure how to go about it, your my number one reader so i thought id ask you
    Thanks :)

  19. Here you go, lots of psychopaths in here: doing lots of evil...


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