The basic paradigm to be presented illustrates the relative ease with which “ordinary,” good men and women are induced into behaving in “evil ways” by turning on or off one or another social situational variable. This body of research demonstrates the under-recognized power of social situations to alter the mental representations and behavior of individuals, groups and nations.
While watching this lecture, by Psychologist, Phillip Zimbardo, I had several aha moments. I’ve watched it several times now and glean new insight each time. I can’t recommend it enough. I also recommend watching two other eye opening videos: The Stanford Prison Experiment and the Miligram Experiment — obedience to authority.
The Psychology of Power and Evil: All Power to the Person? To the Situation? To the System? | Phillip Zimbardo, Psychology Department, Standford University |
To understand anti-social behavior by individuals, which includes violence, torture and terrorism, I endorse a greater reliance on situational variables and processes than has been traditional in psychology. The dominant dispositional orientation, embedded in a psychology of individualism, focuses on internal factors that people bring into various situations, such as genetic, personality, character, and pathological risk factors. While this perspective is obviously important to appreciating the integrity of individual functioning, it is vital to add an appreciation of the extent to which human actions may come under situational influences that can be quite powerful. Those influences have not been fully recognized within psychology or society in trying to explain unusual or “evil” behaviors, such as that of the abuses of Iraqi prisoners by United States military police guards at Abu Ghraib Prison. How one understands the root causes of such behaviors then impacts treatment and prevention strategies.
This view has both influenced and been informed by a body of social psychological research and theory. The situationist approach is to the dispositional as public health models of disease are to medical models. It follows basic principles of Lewinian theory that propel situational determinants of behavior to a foreground well beyond being merely extenuating background circumstances. Unique to this situationist approach is using experimental laboratory and field research as demonstrations of real world phenomena that other approaches only analyze verbally or rely on archival or correlational data for answers.
The basic paradigm to be presented illustrates the relative ease with which “ordinary,” good men and women are induced into behaving in “evil ways” by turning on or off one or another social situational variable. This body of research demonstrates the under-recognized power of social situations to alter the mental representations and behavior of individuals, groups and nations. I explore briefly extreme instances of “evil” behavior for their dispositional or situational foundations – torturers, death squad violence workers and terrorist suicide-bombers. Finally, we turn to consider the opposite side of the coin, by focusing on the positive virtues of heroism and ways in which society and educational systems can promote pro-social values.
WARNING – Contains explicit content
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