Eminent social psychologist Phil Zimbardo has made a career on the study of coercion, obedience, and evil. After years of research he has developed a theory on how good people can turn evil. Essentially, he believes that given the right social conditions, most people lose their moral compass and can commit acts that they would not think they were capable of. USA Today has a recap on his view in a recent article.
People often do inhumane things because they’re told it’s for a higher good, not because they’re evil, he says. For example, soldiers at Abu Ghraib said they were told by military intelligence to soften prisoners up for questioning. “They thought they were doing their duty, and that’s how it starts, but then things got out of hand,” Worthington says.
Zimbardo, an expert witness for Sgt. Ivan Frederick, a convicted Abu Ghraib guard, disputes the torturers were “a few bad apples,” as the Pentagon said. He calls them good apples put in a “bad barrel” by the U.S. Army.
Zimbardo’s work is important to understand and explains the behavior some people display in a way that might be unpleasant, but is real nonetheless. Bonus points to his publicist for getting that story written to promote his new book.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Mar 2007
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Meek, W. (2007). Good People Can Turn Evil. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 8, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2007/03/18/good-people-can-turn-evil/