Open in the App Open in the App Open in the App
Get the key ideas from

The Lucifer Effect

Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

By Philip Zimbardo
15-minute read
Audio available
The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo

In an attempt to reveal the source of humanity’s capacity for evil, The Lucifer Effect (2007) delves deep into the dark corners of the human mind. It shows how we walk a fine line between monstrosity and heroism daily – yet it isn’t our nature that determines on which side of the line we fall, but the numerous situational forces that permeate our lives.

  • People interested in psychology and understanding human nature
  • Anyone who wants to know why good people sometimes turn evil

Philip Zimbardo is a former professor of psychology at Stanford University, widely known for his Stanford prison experiment. A former president of the American Psychological Association, he is also the author of Shyness and co-author of Psychology and Life.

Go Premium and get the best of Blinkist

Upgrade to Premium now and get unlimited access to the Blinkist library. Read or listen to key insights from the world’s best nonfiction.

Upgrade to Premium

What is Blinkist?

The Blinkist app gives you the key ideas from a bestselling nonfiction book in just 15 minutes. Available in bitesize text and audio, the app makes it easier than ever to find time to read.

Discover
3,000+ top
nonfiction titles

Get unlimited access to the most important ideas in business, investing, marketing, psychology, politics, and more. Stay ahead of the curve with recommended reading lists curated by experts.

Join Blinkist to get the key ideas from

The Lucifer Effect

Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

By Philip Zimbardo
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo
Synopsis

In an attempt to reveal the source of humanity’s capacity for evil, The Lucifer Effect (2007) delves deep into the dark corners of the human mind. It shows how we walk a fine line between monstrosity and heroism daily – yet it isn’t our nature that determines on which side of the line we fall, but the numerous situational forces that permeate our lives.

Key idea 1 of 9

Anybody and everybody can turn into a perpetrator of evil.

Look back on your life. Have you ever taken something that wasn’t yours when no one was watching? Most people have. Though not the greatest of evils, this kind of petty theft nonetheless says something about our willingness to do things we wouldn't normally do if the context or situation allows for it.

And yet, we still cling to the notion that some people are just born evil, while others are born saints. The truth, however, is that the line separating good from evil is exceedingly permeable.

Take, for example, the case of Ivan “Chip” Frederick, a former staff sergeant in the US Army. He was one of the guards at Abu Ghraib prison, which gained worldwide attention in 2003 for the abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners held there.

Was Frederick a bad person before his tenure at Abu Ghraib? No – quite the contrary. He was a surprisingly normal, patriotic, baseball-loving young man from Virginia, whose psychological assessments yielded an average IQ and no signs of psychopathological traits whatsoever. But in the Abu Ghraib prison, he transformed into a cruel sadist.

What could cause this drastic change in behavior?

When people commit evil deeds, we often assume that those people are evil-natured. So when something like Abu Ghraib happens, we tend to point the finger at individuals. Traditional psychiatry takes the same view.

Psychiatrists and psychologists like to focus on what's called dispositional causes, i.e., inborn traits that cause our behavior. Genetics, character, pathologies – it’s believed that we carry these attributes with us.

In Frederick’s case, people cited dispositional causes – he was born a sadistic monster – to explain his actions. But there were indeed situational causes that were more responsible for his behavior than whatever character traits he was born with.

As you’ll discover in our next blink, Frederick wasn’t born good or evil. The real causes of evil behavior lie somewhere else entirely.

Key ideas in this title

No time to
read?

Pssst. Sign up to your secret to success: key ideas from top nonfiction in just 15 minutes.
Created with Sketch.