Skip to main content

Philip Zimbardo is a psychologist who designed the famous Stanford prison experiment.  He built Abu Ghraib in a Palo Alto basement more than thirty years before General Miller "Gitmo-ized" Iraq.  Zimbardo also knows about Abu Ghraib because he worked on the sentencing phase of Sgt Ivan "Chip" Frederick's defense and had access to all the evidence presented in that case.

A few months ago, he published The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. In this book, he summarizes more than 30 years of research on factors which lead good people to engage in evil actions.  Here are my notes from his presentation at MIT on April 2, 2007 which I watched online (ain't the Interweb great?!!).  Zimbardo is now concentrating on heroism and how to promote those impulses.  We can't learn enough about that quick enough, it seems after reading Seymour Hersh's latest.

Abu Ghraib was inexcusable but not inexplicable.  The Stanford experiment showed the same behavior.  "We're going to get to the bottom of this" means they are not going to get to the top.  We should consider attributional charity - don't blame individuals first but see whether there are situational and structural factors before establishing individual guilt.

Digitally documented depravity - trophy pictures.  Army reservists not trained to the task.  Gen Karpinski was put in charge of all the prisons in Iraq and had never run any prison before.

Titan Corporation was contracted to interrogate prisoners.  Interrogators were paid $1000 per day.

Zimbardo believes Rumsfeld's orders were responsible for most of the abuses.

He cited Stanley Milgram's electrocution experiment at Yale.  The study was done with 500 ordinary people, not students.  Then he moved the experiment to Bridgeport, CT and ran the experiment with another 500 people.   65% of the shockers went all the way to the end of the voltage range.  "It's a study in how not to exit a bad situation."  Only about 10% of people will not be compliant.  Only 10% are heroes.  In the shock the puppy experiment, a 1971 study that was never published because it was too controversial, 50% of males go all the way and 100% of women did, when their psych profs asked them to, under the guise of a conditioning experiment upon which their grades might depend.  [Were the males under similar pressure?]

10 simple lessons to create evil (from Milgram)
Use ideology to justify any means towards good ends
Start with a small first step
Successively increase small actions
Seemingly "just authority" in charge
Gradually becoming an authoritarian monster
Rules are vague and changing
Situation always re-labels actors and actions
Provide social models of compliance
Allow verbal dissent but insist on behavioral compliance
Make exiting difficult

If you make people anonymous and give people permission to be violent, they will become violent.  Zimbardo's NYU experiment showed that women who were hooded and addressed by number rather than name during the course of the experiment would "shock" subjects longer and harder, increasing the duration of the "shock" as the experiment went on.  Those who were individuated, kept their own names and whose faces could be seen, "shocked" less and didn't increase the duration of shocks during the course of the experiment.

Stanford prison experiment (1971) combined deindividuation, anonymity of place, dehumanization, role playing and social modification, moral disengagement, group camaraderie and emergent norms, power differentials (guards have more power than prisoners), and the evil of inaction (the good guards never stopped the bad guards).  75 volunteers from which two dozen were picked.  Guards and prisoners chosen by a coin flip.  The first student to break down (in 36 hours) has devoted the rest of his life so far to working with prisoners in SF as a clinical psychologist.

We need to understand the person, the place and the psychological circumstances and the system that created that situation.  [Dosage, set, and setting.]  The case of Sgt Ivan "Chip" Frederick showed that putting prisoners on boxes with hoods was in Rumsfeld's order.  Frederick and the other guards served 12 hours a day 7 days a week for 40 consecutive days, never left the prison, had little supervision, and were under bombardment.  Frederick received 8 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.  His most violent act was to hit one prisoner in the chest.

Frederick admitted guilt.  Zimbardo was engaged only to mitigate the sentence.

Rumsfeld's orders:
dogs to induce fear
extreme stress
food, sleep, and sensory deprivation (and sensory overload)
concealing illegal practices from Red Cross

Abuses, suicides [how many?], and 21 murders in Iraq, Cuba, and Afghanistan [that we know of].

Military intelligence used guards to "soften" prisoners up against military protocol.

Zimbardo identified seven psychological factors only one of which was dispositional or personal, six were systemic.

600 accusations of detainee abuse, 190 never investigated, 410 investigated, 260 investigations cleared without formal action, 150 disciplined, 79 court martialed, 54 guilty, ten one year plus sentences, 30  less than a year, 12 no prison, 10 acquitted, 15 minor penalty, 71 administrative discipline or minor reprimands, no officer other than General Karpinski punished.

Administrative evil is a new kind of evil - Unmasking Administrative Evil (Rethinking Public Administration) by G Adams and D Balfour, 2004.

Joe Darby who exposed the photos was put into protective custody for three years, in the service and at home.

Zimbardo will now focus on understanding heroes.  How do we get children to think of themselves as heroes in waiting.  How to move from inaction, from passivity, to stop being ego-centric and move toward socio-centric.

Dr Z's ten steps for resisting influence
"The key to resistance lies in development of the three Ss-- Self-Awareness, Situational Sensitivity, and Street Smarts."
“I made a mistake!”
“I am mindful.”
“I am responsible.”
“I am Me, the best I can be."
“I respect Just Authority, but Rebel against Unjust Authority.”
“I want group acceptance, but value my independence.”
“I will be more Frame Vigilant” - he who makes the frame can control the situation
“I will balance my Time Perspective” -don't become trapped in an expanded present moment, don't forget the sense of past commitments and of future liabilities
“I will not sacrifice personal or civic freedoms for the illusion of security.”
“I can oppose unjust Systems.”

Military commissions act suspends 200 years of American laws - no habeus corpus, no right to counsel, no right to trial.  [Nearly 800 years of the Magna Carta]

Not abuse of power but the arrogance of power - "I can do anything"  "The law does not apply to me and us"

Et tu, Scooter?

Originally posted to gmoke on Wed Jun 20, 2007 at 08:40 PM PDT.


Is Zimbardo more right than wrong?

90%18 votes
5%1 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
0%0 votes
5%1 votes

| 20 votes | Vote | Results

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Check out the Democracy Now! show (8+ / 0-)

    from March 30,2007.

    The link includes a transcript, an audio mp3 download and links to audio and/or video streams of the program.  During the course of the hour, Extensive clips from Zimbardo's movie are shown.

    Makes Abu Ghraib pretty understandable.  Unfortunately

  •  Puppies! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tgray, ChapiNation386, kurt, willb48

    100% of women went all the way with giving shocks to puppies, just because they thought it would help their grades?!

    I know, I know, this is just a small detail in a very important diary, but still....


  •  "Bad Apples" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DebtorsPrison, ChapiNation386

    The "bad apple" argument, which came from the Right, never made any sense to me. Too easy and no evidence to back it up. Places too much focus on the individuals and none on the situation.

    I also had a problem with some of my liberal friends who said they were just "following orders" and should not be prosecuted. I think this treats them like victims and maybe they are but they stil
    l need to face consequences of their actions.

    Both sides took too simplistic of a view. Of course that has a lot to do with politics and worldview.

    Great diary! Zimbardo knows his stuff.
    btw, if you haven't read it yet, read "The Man who Shocked the World: Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgrim" by Thomas Blass.

  •  Before you accept this completely... (4+ / 0-)

    let's talk about professionals.

    I'll see "imminent threat" and raise with "active combat."

    Speaking of books, I'll raise it with the guy who wrote the book on interrogation.

    I'm talking about Sherwood Moran.  He's the guy who disproves a lot of the assumptions made based on studies using undergraduates.

    Rejecting Torture & Its Advocates is long, but its rare documentation worth reading.

  •  ":The study was done with 500 ordinary people," (0+ / 0-)

    Is "ordinary" a euphemism for "stupid?"

    I saw parts of that Yale study and I thought that the ones giving the shocks were unquestioning stupid sheep.

    They heard the screams and asked, "should I keep increasing?" they were told yes, so they did. I can't imagine anyone I know, who would follow that instruction under those circumstances.

    Therefore, I am sceptical that that experiment demonstrates all of us are capable of torturing another person.

    This above all: to thine own self be true...-WS

    by Agathena on Wed Jun 20, 2007 at 09:33:03 PM PDT

    •  Two Sets of 500 People (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      In Milgrim's experiment, according to Zimbardo that day at MIT.  That makes 1000 "stupid" people.

      Does Rwanda demonstrate "all of us are capable of" genocide with machetes?  Does Cambodia demonstrate that "all of us are capable" of the same with clubs and guns?  And let's not forget the Nazis and Stalin.  The human capacity for cruelty seems to be enormous.  

      I want to believe the human capacity for kindness is enormous too.

      Solar is civil defense. Video of my small scale solar experiments at

      by gmoke on Wed Jun 20, 2007 at 09:46:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Original sin (0+ / 0-)

        I didn't think much of the doctrine of original sin until I'd sinned a few times - a sin, I take it, is doing that which you know to be wrong.

        Every human being is born with the capacity to do good and evil.  The difference is not always apparent.  Some Germans failed to speak out against the Nazis because of fear for their families.  Dietrich Boenhoffer called this "folly" - different from making a wrong turn at a corner - doing that which you know to be wrong.  

        Folly is with us, always.  

        We have, already, concentration camps.  We have, in the form of Blackwater, something akin to the SS - waiting in the wings.  Torture is approved.  Anyone may be designated an enemy combatant, and put beyond the reach of the law.

        But I hope and believe that America is awakening.  As Gerald Ford said (prematurely), "Our long national nightmare is over."

        The nightmare is never over - only held at bay.

        (Pedro will save us.  He's our only hope! /snark)

      •  One difference: now more of us know. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Agathena, ChapiNation386

        At least those of us who took a psychology course in high school or college know about the Milgram experiment.  Milgram's subjects were not particularly stupid -- the most obedient were a group of nurses in Bridgeport (CT?):  85% of them completed the trial by administering three 450-volt shocks to the user.  

        Rwanda and Cambodia do not demonstrate that all of us are capable of genocide.  They demonstrate that enough of us are capable of genocide to carry it out, most of us are capable of letting it take place, and Cambodia demonstrates that it is possible to intimidate people into letting it happen to them.


        Dems in 2008: An embarassment of riches. Repubs in 2008: Embarassments.

        by Yamaneko2 on Thu Jun 21, 2007 at 01:02:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Human capacity for kindness (0+ / 0-)

        That capacity for kindness can be astounding as well.  It was an article of faith among the Red Cross volunteers I worked with that people in crisis tend to be altruistic.  We saw it demonstrated at Ground Zero and on Flight 93, where people risked and sacrificed their lives for others.  After Katrina, Americans gave $3.6 billion in charity and thousands of volunteers descended on the Gulf Coast to do some really nasty cleanup work.  The Coast Guard and many private boat owners went into the city to rescue the stranded, despite reports of shooting and violence.
        Going into real forbidden territory, one evening  dKos raised $3,000 for a scammer with a convincing story and a sockpuppet.  

        There's even a form of altruistic hysteria we saw here on dKos during the Buffy Orpington episode.  On one hand, we pledged enough money and other aid to let her restart her life.  On the other hand, we scared the wits out of her family and acquaintances and probably scared her as well.  

        Dems in 2008: An embarassment of riches. Repubs in 2008: Embarassments.

        by Yamaneko2 on Thu Jun 21, 2007 at 01:26:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site