Emily is currently studying AS levels in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Economics at Greene’s. Emily is hoping to read Engineering at university. Emily recently achieved 7.5 in her IELTS examination and a gold certificate in the UK Senior Maths Challenge.
From the Holocaust in the Second World War to “The Reader”, from the Wave experiment to the Cultural Revolution in China, we are shocked by the evil side of people. We think that they must have been mad and cruel or even monsters, but when we think of ourselves we firmly believe that we are not going to be like that. But are we? How far is it from good to evil?
Sunday, 14th of August 1971,California U.S.A. Nine students were arrested by the police in the morning as they were believed to have committed some crimes. They were put in a mock prison where they had to wear the same uniform and were given numbers to represent them when they were still in a state of shock. This was the start of the famous but shocking experiment, which was directed by Philip George Zimbardo- a retired psychology professor at Stanford University. Twenty-four male students were picked randomly from seventy-five applicants and they were all ordinary college students at Stanford without any criminal records. Nine of them were picked to be prisoners and another nine to be guards. Everything was set up to be as real as possible to maximize the validity of the experiment. On the first day, the prisoners acted normally because they still did not believe this was true. What happened next was astonishing; they seemed to accept the context that they were prisoners and quickly became extremely depressed and agitated. Some of them refused to go out of their cells or follow the guards and one prisoner even used his head to hit the wall. However, they did revolt later on as some of them planned to escape. The guards were furious because they could not keep things in order and they started to overstep their authority. All nine guards were willing to work extra hours at the prison to maintain order. Initially they were not allowed to use any violent punishment against prisoners but they begun to abuse their power. They tortured those who did not follow the instructions but gave special rewards like higher quality meals to those who obeyed. Several guards became increasingly cruel as the experiment continued. The situation deteriorated quickly and it had to be stopped after just 6 days.
The experiment results were beyond Zimbardo’s expectations and he thinks it is a result of many factors. First of all, he as a director of the experiment pointed out the dividing line between good and bad in this case, prisoners and guards. Secondly, once they had been chosen to be prisoners they were considered to be the black sheep of our society and they were treated like an underclass. On the other hand, the guards were considered to be honorable due to the fact that they had automatically been given weapon and power. “Once you wear the uniform, it is like playing a role, you are not yourself any more, your behavior has to match the uniform,” one of the guards said. The transformation of good people in certain environment to be evil is called the Lucifer Effect.
The Lucifer Effect might explain the behavior of people in the Second World War or the Cultural Revolution. When people are given certain titles, they become more confident as they gain some rights or power. They use their powers to do everything even unspeakable things to fit those titles. They neglect any moral or social regulations as they think they are just doing their duty. The original characteristics of those people disappear and they become more violent and cruel. Many people consider this as a mistake of the whole social system, the system which wants to get maximum efficiency. Responsibilities push them to cross the moral line and pride leads them to the way of evil. The other important reason is that people follow certain things blindly. This can be explained as they try to reduce peer pressure by copying others’ behavior or tastes to survive in society. Moreover, they lack knowledge, which might help them recognize right or wrong and control their behavior.
When you combine these two reasons it is much easier to understand people’s behavior in dark times. One person starts to abuse his power and he is not punished therefore other people take this as a sort of encouragement. They start to do the same thing. The progress of many good people from good to evil could be really quick because people do enjoy the feeling of using power and once half the people in a group change the rest will follow very soon.
The study of the Lucifer Effect helps us understand more deeply the psychology of people, the power of psychology and the complexity of human nature. The Second World War and the Cultural Revolution may be far away from us but that does not mean we are far away from the Lucifer Effect. It still exists in a new way in our modern society. The importance of the experiment is not just recognizing the Lucifer Effect; it acts like a warning. If we do not learn lessons from the past, tragedies may happen again. Do not open the Pandora’s box because its attractive surface; do not activate your potential for evil because you feel proud of your power. However, this is much easier to say than to do. When it really comes to it, will you be able to resist?