- Showing 1 posts filed under: Potential [–], Conceptual [–] published between Jan 01, 2010 and Jan 31, 2010 [Show all]
Wrongdoing (and heroism) in context
from Howard Zehr's review:
Philip Zimbardo’s 2007 book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, provides an in-depth description and evaluation of his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. To study the dynamics of prison, this famous experiment randomly assigned college student to be guards or inmates in a mock prison. Within a very short time the project had to be terminated because it had become too real: “guards” were becoming abusive and “prisoners” were experiencing the traumas of real-life prison. However, Zimbardo’s book goes far beyond the Stanford experiment. He extends his data to include the abuses and torture that occurred at Abu Ghraib prison - he was an expert witness in one of the resulting legal cases - and explores the dynamics that shape human behavior in extreme circumstances generally.
....Zimbardo points out that western institutions of medicine, education, law, religion and psychology are invested in an individualistic, “dispositional,” view of human behavior. Both wrongdoing and heroism are seen as reflections primarily of individual choices, qualities and dispositions.
But individual disposition is only one factor that shapes human behavior; just as important - and in certain circumstances, more important - are situations and systems or structures. (Cf pp. vii, 7, 211-212, 320) Behavior is strongly affected by situations, and situations are shaped by systems and structures (p. 226). Placed in the wrong situation and structure, all of us are capable of terrible things. In the “right” situations and systems, all have the potential for heroism. Zimbardo does not deny individual choice and makeup, of course, but individual disposition is only one side of a three-sided triangle (dispositions, situations, systems) that shapes human behavior.