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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

The Lucifer Effect in Business

Philip Zimbardo

Edited transcript of a presentation by Philip Zimbardo to the Business and Organizational Ethics Partnership, April 23, 2008

I'm going to talk today about three things: 1)The psychology of evil, the Lucifer effect in action. 2)How do we take these principles from research and apply them to business? What are the ways in which these principles can illustrate how evil can permeate good businesses, how good people, good board of directors members, good workers, good foremen, good managers can get corrupted. And then, 3)How do we turn it around? What are 10 steps toward promoting civic virtue in organizations?

Having grown up in an inner city means you grow up in evil. That means there's lots of homicide. There's suicide. There's drug addiction. There's prostitution. I had really good friends who did really bad things.

Much of my research has been focusing on the dark side of human nature, the effects of anonymity and aggression, which I'll mention, the effects of corrupt situations impacting individual behavior.

The majority of people can easily get seduced to conform to comply in these bad situations. It's not the exception. It's the rule. And so the base rate for you to predict how you would behave in these situations is what the average person did and that's a bad thing; in the prison study, in the Milgram study etc.

But the good news for humanity is, there are always a minority who resist. And so what do we learn from them? Are they special people? I don't want to believe that-I don't want to believe that there are some unique people who are special. I want to say, essentially these are people who have kind of street smarts. And street smarts mean you figure out where the action is, you figure out where the power is, you figure out what's dangerous, and you avoid that or you do things to prevent it. Maybe, in fact, we consider them to be heroes.

It turns out there's almost no literature on heroism. All of the literature is really about Christians who helped Jews during the Holocaust and nobody asked the question for 30 years. Nobody even asked that question until after Hannah Arendt's book "Eichmann in Jerusalem". You know it's focusing on evil, and I said, does anybody help. Well of course, in every country they helped. There are at least 2,000 people who have been documented who helped Jews.

And when you interview them what do they say? They say, "It was no big deal. It wasn't special. You know, I did what anybody should do." Well, it's 30 years later now, and you survived. But 30 years back when you had to make that decision and somebody said, "Hey, please take this kid, the Nazis are going to kill him," and the Nazis just told you the day before, "We will kill your children and your whole family if you're harboring Jews." That's an enormous decision but we don't know anything about that heroic decision decisive moment because nobody's even thought about a study.

If we get to it today I'll talk about new project - - developing heroic imagination in our school children, getting them to think of themselves as everyday heroes in waiting; waiting for the right situation to enact heroism.

Okay. So this is me, and it's going to be a hot talk I hope. And if everything goes right it will be dazzling.

The question "what makes people go wrong" is the question that the theologians, poets, dramatists, philosophers have asked. But psychologists tend not to ask big questions like this. We tend to ask smaller precise questions, which you have really good methods of answering. But as an undergraduate, I majored in sociology and anthropology in addition to psychology, and they ask good questions. They didn't have an answer because they have lousy methods. So I always said, how about asking those big questions and using the techniques we have of experimental methods, of assessment, of statistical analysis. But before that, growing up in the South Bronx I asked those questions as a little kid. What makes my friends, who I thought were good, do really bad s**t and get in trouble; run drugs, go to prison, you know kill people or get killed? From everything I knew about them, at some point they were good kids and at another point they ended up being bad kids. Of course I didn't have the sophistication to go beyond just puzzling about the question.

I also read Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." If you remember that story, it's a story about the good doctor, Dr. Jekyll, who invents some chemical and when he takes it, he crosses the line between good and evil and becomes a monster. The drug wears off and he goes back and becomes the good Dr. Jekyll, but he can't resist one more hit. What I got out of that story was I had been led to believe that the line between good and evil was fixed and impermeable, that we were the good people on this side and they were the bad people on that side. And the story opened my mind to say, well maybe that line is permeable. Maybe it's not fixed and set. Maybe it's moving, moveable. And if so, it means that good people can drift across at some time and maybe even bad people can be rehabilitated.

[Shows slide of "Angels and Demons"]I want to refer you to this illustration by the great artist-Swiss artist M.C Escher. If you look at it, some people see angels, some people see devils. If you focus on the white as a figure you see a world full of angels and wings and little tutus. But if you look more deeply, suddenly the demons appear. Once you see that, your mind cannot now ever look at just one or the other. You begin to see the demons-the eyes, the horns, the wings-and the angels and the demons and the angels.

What this tells me is two things: It tells me that the world has been, is and will always be filled with both good and evil, that good and evil are the yin and yang of the human condition, the dark and light sides of all of us. I don't believe people are born good and become bad or the other way around. We have this incredible mind, which is filled with the mental templates to do anything any human being that has ever done. And this is what John Donne says in his mediations: that anything any human being has done, I could do because we are all part of the same continent.

But it also reminds me, as a good Catholic, that God's favorite angel was Lucifer. Lucifer means the light, the bringer of the light; also the morning star. He's numero uno angel, and one day God creates Adam, his all-perfect creature, and says all angels must respect Adam. Lucifer and some other angels, say this doesn't make sense. Adam is a mere mortal, therefore corruptible; we are angels, and we existed before him.

Well, in those days there was no conflict resolution; there was no mediation. God said, "You're out of here because you committed two sins: the sin of disobedience against ultimate authority and the sin of pride-and you know that pride goes before the fall." So he gets Michael, the archangel, to kick butt, and he throws Lucifer and the other angels out.

So Lucifer descends to hell, becomes the devil, becomes a Satan and this is the start, at least in the Christian tradition, of evil existence. And of course, Lucifer comes back as Satan to say, "God, I want to show you I was right and you were wrong" because he corrupts Adam and Eve….
The interesting thing for me is that this is the most extreme transformation imaginable, from God's favorite angel to the devil. And so it sets the context for us to think about how ordinary people, not angels, first begin to be perpetrators of evil.

There are many definitions of evil. The psychological one I want to use is, evil is the exercise of power. I'm going to say this is the key. It's all about power. It's the exercise of power by some people over other people and it's intentional. It's an intentional exercise of power to harm others-psychologically through verbal abuse, through bullying, through teasing, through gossip, through rumors, through dehumanization, to hurt others, to torture, to physically abuse, and to destroy or kill. A friend of mine has a simple definition: Evil is knowing better and doing worse….

Next week will be the fourth anniversary of the T.V. expose of these horrendous pictures from Abu Ghraib. I'm sure you were as shocked as I was to see them. These are American soldiers-men and woman (for the first time in history there were woman involved who not only were abusing and torturing prisoners, but they were putting themselves in the picture). What were they thinking?

So, immediately, General Meyers, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, goes on television and says, "Hey, wait a minute, 99.9 percent of American soldiers are excellent. These are a few bad apples."

Well again, growing up in the Bronx, every two years [we had problems with the] police department, and it was always the same thing: "A few bad cops. We're going to get rid of them, fire them." In a few years…a few bad cops. There are always a few bad cops, a few bad firemen and few bad CEOs etc. etc. But it goes on and on.

So I said, gee, maybe my hypothesis is that the soldiers were good and maybe it was the barrel that was bad. The media loves those kinds of sound bytes. And one of my students was a Stanford student who's worked for NPR, and he heard me say this and encouraged me to do an interview. And so once it was on NPR, it circulated.

Finally, the lawyer for one of the guards, Sergeant Chip Fredrick, who should have been in charge of the night shift, heard the interview, and said do you want to join our team.

At first I said, "No, this is horrific." But he said, if you do it you could get the data to answer you hypothesis. You could know about the person and the situation. And so I agreed.

What I want to do is take you down for a moment to that dungeon. This is a case study of evil. You're going to see some violent sexual pictures. All of them were from the cameras of soldiers. They took pictures of everything. There's no censorship. In the olden days, if you had to send those pictures to a film lab they would never had developed them. Today, you take the picture, you put it on T.V. These pictures were circulated. Soldiers had these on their screensavers.

The abuses took place over a three-month period. They only took place in a single area, - - only in tier 1A and only on the nightshift. It didn't happen in tier 1A on the dayshift. So it says, maybe there's a situational difference that we want to pursue.

So let's get back to that dungeon and see what evil in action looks like. It starts in a routine way: people doing push-ups, jumping jacks, the slight physical abuse. And then it always escalates toward more and more degradation.

And let's open those doors to the dungeon and then go down. So former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld goes down there, and he's talking with Brigadier General Janis Karpinski who should have been in charge of the prison but was not, and Colonel Pappas, who should have been in charge of the military intelligence unit but he was declared unfit for combat and still held his position for awhile.

They want to know who are the bad apples. I want to argue that you have to reframe the question. If you ask a "who" question there's only one answer. It's people. If you say, "What is responsible?" it could be people but it could be something else. It could be the behavioral context, the situation. And that's obviously the question we're going to ask.

So what we want to know is how do psychologists and social scientists, most people, go about trying to understand that transformation of human character? The typical and in some cases the only approach that we use is called the dispositional. You look inside the person. You look for sinners. You look for guilt. You look for the insane. This is the general approach of religion, of law, of medicine, of much of psychology. Psychiatry, in fact, only uses that approach. Every thing is inside the person. And you'll see in a minute how that leads to some bad decisions.

Another approach is to say, of course people are the actors, but you never run a solitary act on an empty stage. There's an audience. There are always other actors. You're in a costume. There are props. There's a stage director and there are scripts. Those are things around the person, which collectively we're going to call situational forces. They are external to the person and if the apple is bad this is the bad barrel.

There's a big debate in psychology: how important is [the barrel vs. the apple]? But it wasn't until I got engrossed in Abu Ghraib, trying to understand it, that I realized, hey, we (meaning psychologists, social scientists, some of you) have shortchanged ourselves because we have not mentioned-not focused on the system. We have not asked the question, who creates and maintains the bad barrel? And these are the bad barrel makers.
So the system is cultural, legal, historical, economic. And this is where the power is. This is where the juice is. You can't change bad behavior only by trying to change the person.

In fact all of our change procedures begin and end there; that is with rehabilitation, with putting people in prison, with sterilizing, executing, whatever it is. If we're more benign we do nice things; if we're less benign we do worse things. But if the problem is in the situation, that's got to fail and that's why prejudice and evil and bullying persist.

You can now focus on the situation that's producing [the evil], but if you want to change the situation, you have to understand the levers of power that are maintaining it. And usually they are not transparent.

So every prison in the world is covered with a veil of secrecy. We, right in this room, have no idea what's happening in our local jails, in San Quentin, in any of the prisons. Most of us don't care. We would like to believe bad things that are not happening until prisons riot. Horrible things are happening in almost every jail, every prison in the world, precisely because there's no transparency. Lawyers and media do not have access to prisons. Even congressional investigating committees-and I was on one-have to wait two weeks before they get access to San Quentin. They've got to get the approval from the governor, from the head of the Department of Corrections, from the superintendent of that prison etc. And in two weeks all the s**t is cleared up, obviously.

So the Lucifer effect really involves understanding human behavior. And this is what we're trying to apply to business evil, at three levels. We have to understand what people bring into this situation, the particular personalities, backgrounds of the employees, of the people on the board of directors.
We have to understand the situation, the social, situational context of that business. And it's different in different contexts. There's a situational context of the board of directors, of each unit in your company. In some units, there's job burn out and other units, people are engaged. And so it's not just a general thing. It's very specific.

And then we have to say, what is the dominant system? What are the values? And we're going to talk about values that justify why they're creating those situations or ignoring them….

In your organizations, how is it that people come in who are diverse, who are very different, but over time, they begin to share the same values? And what if those values are that the company said it's okay to steal from the business? Whatever the justification is, if you're running the business, it's costing you money and that's money passed on to consumers, so it's costing us money. What leads to a unanimity of thinking and values especially when those values are negative, counter productive?

I quickly want to run through a couple of experiments. The first is by Stanley Milgram. He and I were in the same class at James Monroe High School in the Bronx. He was concerned about whether the Holocaust could happen in America. People said, "Don't be stupid. That was Nazi Germany. That's German national character." He said, "Yeah, but could it? Suppose Hitler or some powerful person asked you to electrocute a stranger, would you do it?" They said, "No way. I would never do it." He said, "Let me create a situation where we put people in and see. Is it true that if some authority said, electrocute this guy, you wouldn't do it or might you?"

And what's important is that he tested a thousand ordinary people….[He told his subjects that he was looking for] people for a study of memory. He begins with a good ideology--science wants to help people improve their memory because memory is critical for success in life. So that's important. That's the big, good ideology. And how are we going to get there?

He says, we know that if you reward correct answers people will learn. Nobody has studied whether, if you punish errors, people will also learn. That's our job. We want to punish you-one of you will be a teacher and one of you will be a learner. The teacher's going to give the learner the materials to learn. The learner gets it right, say good. Learner gets it wrong, you punish him. And we want to see, does that mix, positive and negative consequences of your behavior, improve memory. The people said, "Yeah, that's a good deal. I'll do that."

So Milgram drew a story: You be the teacher, he's the learner. The learner is a middle-aged, nice guy. No reason to want to hurt him. You know, you hook him up to your electric chair. The teacher is sitting in front of this impressive shock apparatus. The experimenter is in the lab coat and that gives him the authority.

And it begins. And the guy's doing well; you say, fine. He makes a mistake, and what you do is you press the first button, which is only 15 volts, and when you press it, there's no response. Each successive increment is by 15 volts. It goes 15, 30, 45 and that's important. The most important thing in my lecture is: All evil begins with 15 volts and increases gradually so that you don't even notice. Nobody is noticing, but the box goes up to 300 volts, and it says, severe danger, severe shock. 450 and it says triple X, pornography of power. You are sitting in front of that box, and it starts with 15 volts and you press it, the guy's not even responding. When you get up to 75, 100, he starts to yell, and when it gets higher, he says, "Wait a minute. I've got a heart condition, and I don't want to go on." It gets higher and he's now screaming, and you are a good person. What do you do? You turn to the experimenter and say, "Sir, who's going to be responsible if something happens to him?" The experimenter says, "I'm responsible of course, I'm the experimenter. You must continue." And then as it gets worse and worse, you say, "No, I don't want to go on." He says, "I'm sorry, you've got a contract. You must go on." And then it gets to 330 volts. The guy screams, there's a thud and silence and you say, "Sir, somebody should go in and see him and something bad could happen." And the experimenter turns to you and says, "I'm sorry. You don't understand the rules. The rules are failure to respond is an error of omission, which is the same as an error of commission. Continue to shock." Well nobody told you that rule. He just made that up.

And so the question is who would go all the way to 450 volts? Milgram asked 40 psychiatrists that question--what percent of American citizens go all the way? They said only one percent because this is sadistic behavior and only sadists would practice sadistic behavior.
That's the dispositional approach run amuck. They had ignored all the situational forces: the lab coat; the roles you're playing, teacher and student; the rules; the verbal contract; the pressure of the experimenter, wanting to be a good subject and everything you have learned from kindergarten on about obedience to authority.

In the study, the experimenter starts off being a just authority. We want to help people improve their memory. And at some point there's a transformation of the authority from just to unjust. He's now saying, "I don't give a s**t about this guy. You've got to keep shocking."

Well you're a 50-year-old man. You're not a kid. You step back and you say, "How can I be helping him improve his memory if he's unconscious or dead?" And at that point everybody should quit, right? The data are: No one quits to 285 volt(and the guy's starting to scream at about 135).
At 330, only two people drop out. Two-thirds go all the way. Not one percent; two-thirds of ordinary citizens.

Now I said Milgram did a thousand subjects. He didn't do that in just one study. He did 16 different experiments, and in each one he varied one aspect of the social situation. And what he does is, in a way he quantifies evil as the percentage of people who go to the extreme, 450 volts which could be electrocuting this guy.

And he shows that the results can be over 90 percent or down to zero. How do you get almost everybody to do it? If you see a peer insisting, "Go all the way," you go all the way. If you come in, and they say, "Well, we're finishing up the previous subject," and you see somebody like you go all the way, nine out of 10 times you go all the way.

What happens if you see people rebel? If you see people rebel, 90 percent of the time you rebel. So it says people are powerful social models. They don't have to tell. We just observe their behavior and in that situation say this is the right way to behave, this is the wrong way to behave.

What about women? They are no different than men. It does make a difference if the guy is next to you. If he's in proximity, it drops from 60 percent to 40 percent. If the authority is in the other room rather than with you, it drops down to 40 percent.

So what it says is you can vary. It's almost like putting a dial on human nature. You can get people to be more or less abusive, punishing, engaging in this kind of evil depending on little aspects of the social situation.

So I'm reading "Lord of the Flies" while Milgram is doing that study. If you remember the story, there is a group of British choirboys-they say that because they're Christian kids-on a desert island and democracy takes over. Right dominates might until they run out of food. They run out of food and then some of the boys corner a pig, the only food and they're about to kill the pig and that killing is inhibited because they do not kill. That's a commandment. But one of the boys takes his clothes off, paints himself, gets some of the other boys to do it. They made themselves anonymous, and then they could kill that pig easily. They enjoy killing. They kill other pigs, and then they kill Piggy, the intellectual boy. At that point in the story, fascism takes over from democracy because then might makes right.

Well, my students said, "Is that a fantasy of the author? Is that real? Simply making someone anonymous, is that sufficient to move them across that line from good to evil?" And I said, "I don't know. Let's do an experiment."

So we have 10 groups of four women each, who I'm going to call de-individuated. We make them anonymous. We take away their names and say, you're one, two, three, four. We cover their appearance, put them in these hoods like Ku Klux Klan outfits. We say, you're in a study (and again, this is a big lie), in which other woman are trying to be creative under stress. Your job is to stress them. You're going to stress them by giving them a painful electric shock. And we put the finger down and they feel it. It really hurts.

Now,any time somebody sells you an experiment, you want to know. what is the control group-what is the comparison group? It's woman from the same class, who are randomly assigned by a flip of the coin to be individuated. They have their name tags, but everything else is the same. We take away their identity or we highlight their identity.

They now see me behind a one-way screen with the first of two victims. There are going to be two women, and there are going to be 20 opportunities to give her shock while I'm supposedly giving a test of creativity. So it's not like the Milgram study. Nobody is saying you must do it. The experimenter is in another room. You are there alone in a cubicle. You know there are three other women and the situation begins.

An amber light comes on and you put your finger down on the button; when a green light comes on, shock is in the system. You know it because she's yelling and twisting and turning. She's an actress. As in the Milgram study, nobody actually gets hurt. And at the end of 20 trials, she goes out and a second woman comes in. So here's now women punishing other woman under the guys, the ideology that we want to help people become more creative. One of the problems with creativity is there's always stress. Can you learn to suppress your reaction to stress?

The data very simply are: Here is the amount of shock they give for the first 10 trials and the second 10 trials and we've combined the two victims. When they are individuated, they start low and they stay low. When they are de-individuated, they start twice as high and they increase significantly over time. Once they begin to shock they're shocking more and more and more. And I think it's not that they want to hurt her. It's that she is their puppet. Again, I think it's that evil of the exercise of power. As they shock-it's almost as if she's twisting and turning and doing all these things and over time, the more they do it the more enjoyment they get out of doing it…

An anthropologist reads this study and says, "If what you say is true, it ought to be that it makes the difference if warriors go to battle changing their appearance or not in how they treat their victims." He says that in some cultures they go to war straight out, don't change their appearance. In other cultures it's like "Lord of the Flies,"-they paint themselves or they put masks on or in most cultures, we put soldiers in something called uniforms and uniforms de-individuate.

And so he finds 23 cultures where there are two bits of information: One bit of information is, do warriors change their appearance? Fifteen do, eight don't. And the dependent measure is not do they press a button, but do they kill, mutilate and torture? This is the ultimate evil. I don't know what's worse than that.

So he finds out that if you don't change your appearance, only one of 13 killed, tortured and mutilated. We're interested in the red zone obviously. If they change their appearance 90 percent kill, tortured and mutilate. Just that one variable and you have different cultures, different values, different ethics. But you put people in uniforms, you get them to change their appearance, and now in battle, they are doing things that they would never think of doing in civilian life.

So culture has wisdom. All wars are about old men sending young men to kill other young men. The only thing that varies is whether it's for turf or oil or revenge or something. But when the war is over, whether you win or loose, everybody's got to do what? Turn in their uniform, wash off the paint. It's against the law to wear your uniform when you're discharged. Okay. Because we want you to go back to being the good little boy and not GI Joe.
[Shows slide from Abu Ghraib] Some of you may have wondered why I put that picture in. This is a soldier on duty on the night shift Abu Ghraib. His face is painted in the face paint of a rock group from Detroit called Insane Clown Posse who promote misogyny, who promote violence. And he's wearing a Harley Davidson cap. This tells you what? This tells you there was no military discipline on the nightshift. This guy feels comfortable enough to paint himself, walk around on duty with this thing, knowing that there will be no senior officer coming down to sanction that. Also, imagine you're a prisoner and one of your guards walks around looking like that. I would be scared sh**less.

How else can good people be seduced into evil? Well, a powerful authority directing you and [at the same time] feeling anonymous. It's not anonymity alone; it's anonymity plus permission to engage in evil.

Also, dehumanizing your victim; that is thinking of other people as animals. For me, dehumanization is the most critical psychological process in all mass murders and rape and prejudice because I think of it as like a cortical cataract. You know if you have a cataract on your eyes, it blurs your vision. Here's a cataract on your brain, which blurs your vision of other people, so that you don't see them as similar to you, similar to your kind or your kin.
As I said, it's the most basic process in murder, genocide rapist terror. It functions at the individual level. We all do it. But at the national level, you can make it a national policy. In Rwanda, Tutsis and Hutus are two tribes living side by side. One day, the Hutu government says, "The Tutsis are cockroaches; you must eliminate them," and gives every man a machete, every woman a club, and in three months 800,000 Tutsis are murdered. One of the most efficient murders short of what the Nazis did with the Jews….

One of the dominate images is the enemy as the beast, insect, reptile-things that we hate. In Germany, the Jews were called vermin; that is vermin like rats that are eating the world's food supply. So it semantically changes the perception of the victims as less than human. It changes the evil act-it's only collateral damage. It changes your relationship, as in the Milgram study where you're a teacher helping a student learner, when in fact you're an aggressor, harming them.

And when you do that, as Al Bandura, a professor at Stanford says, you disengage your morals. You put your morality in neutral and you coast, and while you're coasting, your usual self-sanctions against doing evil things are suspended, and you will do anything in that situation that other people are doing, that the situation gives you permission to do.

Very simply, Bandura has a group of students from Stanford, three students who are going to help a group of students from anther school in business-related decision makin,g and it's going to be like the Milgram study. When they get something right, reward them, and when they get it wrong, you're going to give them a collective shock.

The only variable in this study is the students who are going to be the punishers, overhear the assistants say, "The students from the other school are here. We are ready."

In the second condition, the assistants say, "They seem to me like animals," and in the third condition, "They seem like nice guys." What does one word do?

In the neutral condition, the punishment starts low and levels off. Just thinking of them as animals, you start low, but over time, once you begin to shock, you shock more and more and more. So this is a linear increase. The good news is, when the other people are humanized [as nice guys, the shocks start low and end low.] So positive labels help; negative labels kill. So sticks and stones may break your bones but names can kill you.

So, on to the Stanford prison study: Very quickly, it was 1971. We put a small ad in the paper. These are students from all over the country who had just finished summer school at Stanford and Berkley. Seventy-five people answered the ad, 24 were selected. After we gave them personality tests, we picked the most normal, most healthy, most ordinary college students. And so we know, on Day 1, we have only good apples that we're going to put in our bad prison.

To the kids that were going to be prisoners, we said wait at home in dormitories. The study will begin on Sunday. What they didn't know was we had gotten the cooperation of the Palo Alto Police Department to simulate an arrest. And very realistic as you can see.
[Plays tape of student participant.} "A cop comes to the front door and knocks and says he's looking for me. So they-right there, you know, they took me out the door and they put my hands against the car. And it was a real cop car. It was a real policeman and there were real neighbors in the street who didn't know about us, that this was an experiment. And there was cameras all around and the neighbors all around. They put me in the car and then drove me around town - - and took me to the police station, the basement of the police station. And then they put me in a cell, and it's just like a room with a door with bars on it. You could tell it wasn't a real jail. They locked me in there in this degrading little outfit and they were taking this experiment too seriously."

[Zimbardo resumes]: Well, indeed we were. So here are prisoners de-individuated. We took away their names, gave them numbers. We gave guards symbols of power and authority like reflective sunglasses, an idea I got from the movie "Cool Hand Luke," which again made them dehumanized.
And it begins, as you saw, with the same picture at Abu Ghraib. It begins with push-ups, jumping jacks, little things.

A main motive of evil is boredom. People get bored, and the only play things you have are the prisoners. At Stanford prison and at Abu Ghraib. And the worst abuses in both places happened on the nightshift when you have a long, long time, and there's nothing to do except irritate the prisoners…. Humiliating tasks: cleaning toilet bowls out with their bare hands, stripping them naked, sexually degrading them.

The first to get arrested was the first one to break down after only 36 hours. He became the social model of how you get out. Each day thereafter, another kid had an emotional breakdown, an extreme stress reaction, and so we had to end the study after six days. It was out of control.

When I went to sleep at night, I was fearful of what the guards would do. In fact on the last night I didn't realize this until the next day, we looked at the video tape, guards lined up the prisoners and said, "You're female prisoners, bend over. And when they did, they were wearing smocks with no underpants. Their butts were showing. "You're male camels. Get behind him and hump him." So they were laughing. Hump is a play on words. And so college students are getting other college students to simulate sodomy in five days. It took longer at Abu Ghraib for that to happen.

We have a wonderful website,, that I would welcome your looking at. It's actually in five different languages. Well, here are British soldiers in Basra having Iraq prisoners simulate sodomy. And some of those soldiers were-at Abu Ghraib, They were not real soldiers; they were low-level army reserve-no training. Some of these were soldiers who had been distinguished in battle found doing this.

James Schlesinger was one of the people who did an investigation. He was the former secretary of defense. All of the rest of the reports were by generals. I discovered an appendix. He says, "The potential for abusive treatment of detainees during the global war on terror was entirely predictable based on a fundamental understanding of the principles of social psychology coupled with an awareness of numerous known environmental risk factors….The conditions of the war, the dynamics of detainee operations carry an inherent risk for human mistreatment and therefore must be approached with great caution and careful planning and training. There was none."

It goes on to say "Psychologists have attempted to understand how and why individual groups that usually act humanely can sometimes act otherwise in certain circumstances." And then he says [about the prison project], "The landmark study provides a cautionary tale for all military detension operations". They knew about the results of the Stanford study: You give guards permission to abuse prisoners, to have power-I only eliminated physical abuse-and you do not have oversight, and what you get is what we got at Stanford.

There are people who have argued that the military, in fact, knew that, and that's why there was no oversight for three months; that's why no senior officer went down. You gave them permission to take the gloves off. You gave them permission to soften the prisoners up. Why did the abuses happen only in tier 1A? That was the interrogation center. All interrogations in Abu Ghraib were done in that center. It was run by military intelligence. There were CIA doing interrogation. There were civilian contractors from the Titan corporation all doing interrogation.

When Chip Frederick, who's supposed to be in charge of the nightshift, got on duty in September, there were 200 prisoners. In a month, there were a thousand because the insurgency started. They started arresting everybody-all the men, boys-and most of them had no information to give.

So they're interrogating these guys, they're getting nothing, and so military intelligence goes to military police and says, "You've got to help us. Hey, take the gloves off, soften them up, prepare them for interrogation." Those are euphemisms. So when these terrible things happen, the military establishment says they have plausible deniability. We never said, pile them in a pyramid. We never said [the guards] had to do that is or that. And so all of the soldiers were dishonorably discharged, got various prison sentences from 10 years down to one year.

Not a single officer was reprimanded. Not a single officer was reprimanded even though, on the command responsibility level, if your subordinates engage in illegal and immoral behavior that you should have known about, you are equally guilty. And clearly, if it was going on for three months, they should have known. They knew and they decided not to do anything.

So we need a paradigm shift in psychology, psychiatry and medicine, religion, and law away from the traditional focus solely on the individual because the medical model says, find the sinner, find the culprit, find the insane person, and try to change them.

Instead the model we have to adopt is a public health model. The public health model says there are situational and systemic vectors of disease in this society. So if I'm a doctor and one person comes in with a set of symptoms that I think are the flu, I treat him and then another comes in and, at some point, I would say, wait a minute. I have to stop treating and start preventing. We have to inoculate people against disease and evil.
For me evil is bullying. It's one of the biggest evils in our society. Some woman has just written a book called "Bullicide" because her son committed suicide, and he is the seventh one in the last year.

Bullying now is cyberbullying. You go on the Internet and say, "The reason Jamie is so popular is she puts out for the boys. The reason Billy gets the good grades, he cheats." Your reputation is ruined. There's no way you can counteract that. And kids are beginning to commit suicide. And again the Internet provides that anonymity.

So there's another Web site I hope you will visit. It's called It has everything about the book. There's going to be a movie about me, about the prisoner study, celebrating heroism, which we'll hopefully get to….
So Lucifer goes into business: What are the steps to evil in good business folks? I'm taking the principles that we just talked about plus others that are in the book.

Evil Traps

  1. Begin with an ideology.

    It's the big lies, the pie in the sky. It's the essential goal achieved by all means necessary where the ends justify the means. Whatever it is, you have this big ideology that is good. So it's making a profit for stockholders. You want to help people improve their memory. That's good. We want to help people be creative under stress. That's good. That's where it starts.

    The question is, what are the means you provide to get there? So the global war on terrorism, we want to stop terrorism and that's good. Will you want to use torture? You want to use illegal renditions etc. etc.? Do you want to undercut the moral values of America to achieve that goal? That is a value judgment that our administration is agreeing to.

  2. Establish contractual obligations, written or verbal that constrain the behavior of hires.

    You know, here's what you can do; here's what you can't do. It becomes critical. Everyone plays a role with established scripts. Of course in an organization, there are these roles, but now you begin to say, "Wait a minute, you know you're not playing the role the way it's supposed to be. Look at this person. Here's how the role is supposed to be played."

  3. Behavior is rule controlled.

    The way we deal with most behavior is with rules. If you start smoking and it bothers me, instead of my saying, "Gee, I wish you wouldn't smoke," I say, "Excuse me, can you read" It says no smoking.

    When there's a rule, there's always a rule enforcer, and that's the cops. We're going to bring the cops. We're going to bring in the security guard, so I don't have to deal with you at a personal level.

    Rules make personal behavior impersonal. As in the Milgram study, you have a lot of rules and rules keep changing. In the Stanford prison study, the first thing the guards did was say, we need rules. They had 17 rules, and the last rule was: failure to follow any of the above leads to punishment.

    So, you need rules that are vague and changing as needed. You want to replace reality with desirable rhetoric. Semantics obscure the policy. Things that should be transparent are now concealed behind words. And in many cases, people get to use the words rather than focus on what the reality is.


  4. Create diffusion of responsibility for negative outcomes.

    No boss is liable. You want to spread and deflect the blame. This is one of the most critical things in an institution. The question is, who is responsible?


  5. Start small

    You want to start down the path to evil, take tiny steps. You'll want to warm the books before cooking the books. Again, it's that 15 volt thing. It's Friday night, and somebody goes to an accountant and says, "Look, the book's not adding up, a slight error. You know, can you just fix this thing? We'll deal with it Monday." Monday comes [and nothing happens]. Then next week, the guy says, "Gee, you know what you did helped us out, and now things are worse."

    Now it's going to escalate. You want to gradually increase actions that are immoral, unethical, illegal so they become habitual as loyalty tests.
    So stealing: The first time you steal a pen, the first time you steal a stapling machine, whatever it is, it's a small thing. You know the company's not going to miss it. But now, if most employees are doing it, it now adds up. And now it means that there's no limit. Once you do this, you take that.

  6. Influential authority is initially just but gradually changes to be unjust, demanding, and in some cases toxic.

    There's a book by Jean Lipman-Blumen, called "The Allure of Toxic Leaders." Many, many corporations have leaders who ultimately end up being toxic. They end up destroying corporations and until they do, they're usually powerful and charismatic, and people are drawn to that, just like people were drawn to Hitler. Who is the guardian in your corporation, who is aware that charisma is not enough, that there has to be moral, ethical responsibility in addition?


  7. Make the exit costs high.

    You want to make the exit costs high to retain dissenters in the fold. Punish whistle blowers and reward obedient compliers. All cults, at the very beginning of your initiation, generate a fold, and they make it clear if you exit, your family's going to die, terrible things are going to happen to you. I interviewed people who were in the Moonies.

    [Business organizations do this by building] in these exit costs so that you can't leave. If you do you're going to lose your retirement pay, nobody's going to hire you, we're going to black list you. And so people stay in an organization that they know is wrong and they know is immoral because exit costs are too high rather than just continuing to go on.

    Promoting Civic Virtue

    So, how do we promote civic virtue?

    1. Encourage mindfulness and critical thinking in all employees and management.

      What does that mean? It means that you want to have constructive criticism, that you want to have people be able to step back and analyze the situation.

      All group think-the group think that led the smart people in JFK's cabinet to engage in the Bay of Pigs fiasco is the same thing that happened in Iraq. There were no dissenters. There was nobody playing devil's advocate. They said, "Oh, that sounds good. " During the Iraq war, the only question was how much should we increase the bombing rather than is the bombing working? If it's not working, we have to double the amount of bombs.

    2. Encourage the admissions of mistakes.

      Accept them as a one-time judgment error, cut bait, and move on. Again, Robert McNamara, in his memoir, says, "We knew three or four years before we got out of Vietnam the war was not winnable, but we didn't know how to exit and so we kept doing it. We kept saying a little more, a little more." The same thing is happening now. People are saying we could be in Iraq until it breaks our country.

      The hardest thing in the world is to say, I made a mistake. Those words, I made a mistake, three words. I'm sorry, forgive me, let's move on. When you don't do that you stimulate what's known as cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the infinite ability of every human being to justify mistakes, to rationalize them. The same mistakes are made but not by me, by them. And typically, then, you increase the negative consequences.

    3. Promote personal responsibility and accountability.

      Everyone in the organization, top down, you have to own your own decisions, your own orders and actions. Right after Abu Ghraib, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld went before the Senate Arms Services Committee and said, "These abuses happened on my watch. As secretary of defense I am fully responsible." Guess what? He's a distinguished visiting fellow at Stanford University and the Hoover Institution, probably making a million dollars a year from some big corporation. He should be sitting in prison next to Chip Frederick and the other prisoners.

      You cannot be responsible without being accountable. That's the key. Responsibility is a word. That's rhetoric. I'm responsible. But you have to make clear, if you are responsible, you're accountable. And here's what accountable means. You have to discourage the transgression: zero tolerance for cheating, lying, gossiping, bullying, discrimination jokes, stereotypes, and hostile actions. Most prejudice is transmitted with jokes. People say, hey, it's a tits and ass joke. It's the Spics, Jews or Wops. It's Uncle Charlie telling it at Thanksgiving, and if you don't stop it you are guilty of the evil of inaction.

      In Abu Ghraib, in addition to the soldier who did the bad thing, there were always medics there; there were nurses there; there were other people who saw, smiled and left and did not challenge. And the guys I spoke to said, "Well, it made us feel like what we were doing was not so bad." Lynndie England said, "Why are people upset? It was only fun and games. Why are they making all this ethics thing? We didn't kill anybody."

    4. Support the distinction between just and unjust authority.

      This is the hardest thing. Starting with that Lucifer story with God and the Catholic Church, we would rather have kids blindly obey authority-priests, parents, teachers-than to teach them this discrimination. We say you should respect just authority, but there's unjust authority. There are teachers who are abusive. We know there are a significant number of Catholic priests who have been abusive since 1950. It's costing the church-I don't know what the last total is-$2 or $3 billion-and they simply were sent from one church to another including shipping them out to Ireland. That was a system breakdown, and nobody has gone to jail. None of those priests have gone to jail even though they were pederasts.

    5. Reward acts of moral behavior.

      Organizations have to make clear they respect moral behavior. They have to reward moral behavior not just productivity.

    6. Be aware of group norms that are counterproductive.

      There are subgroups in every organization that develop these emergent norms that say, this is okay for us to do. For example, in piece-rate companies, the norm might be, you know we're not going to knock ourselves out. We're going to do a little less. And a new worker comes in who's really energetic, they're going to suppress that, to say no, no, don't knock yourself out. This is what we do. We only do this limited amount.

    7. Respect differences, diversity, human variability as assets.

      There only 12 percent women on boards of directors? And if you said, what about minorities? that's maybe three percent, two percent. If you don't have that difference at the top, then that model gets reflected in the whole organization.

      Respecting difference means that you value difference of opinion and it cuts through the whole notion of dehumanization. You want to change the condition that allows anyone to feel anonymous. Anything that makes you feel anonymous will promote unethical, immoral behavior because if you're anonymous, you know you're not accountable. Instead you want to make everybody in the organization feel special.

    8. Challenge the myth of sacrificing freedom and personal character for the promise of security.

      Eric Fromm, back in 1970-1971, said all dictators make this tradeoff: They say, I will be powerful and can give you security if you give me a little of your freedom. What we're seeing now in the current administration is, through a manipulation of the Justice Department and Cheney wanting to give the president extreme powers in the war on the terrorism, those powers are including sacrificing basic freedoms. Right now the Military Commissions Act says that America can arrest any person in the world from any country, bring him to an undisclosed place without a charge, without a lawyer, and keep him there indefinitely; and that really means forever.

      There are several hundred prisoners in Guantanamo Bay who have been there from 2001, 2002, five or six years with no charge against them except they are suspected somehow of being involved with Al Qaeda or terrorism, and they can be kept there indefinitely and they can only be tried by a military tribunal. And this is a violation of 200 years of Anglo-American law that is going on right now, that congress approved, that there's no outrage for, and this undercuts America's morality around the world. If we said, this is being done by Turkey or Russia, we would be up in arms, but it's being done by our country and we're not doing anything.

      There's a book I want to recommend called "Unmasking Administrative Evil" by Adams and Balfour. What they talk about is that in many corporations, legality dominates morality. They're saying that bad means are established to get to good ends, but they go through lots of really important examples.

      I just want to mention one other thing. Somebody raised "broken windows theory". Broken windows theory says that evil starts small stuff. Some kids vandalize a car; if you do graffiti on the subways, on a statue; you break somebody's window. If the graffiti is not erased, if the abandoned cars are not taken off the street, if the windows are not covered, that conveys to the people in that neighborhood that no one cares, and if no one cares, then you can do the same thing.

      I did the only study that's mentioned in that broken windows article in "Atlantic Monthly." I bought cars. I put them on the streets in the Bronx and Palo Alto, and we observed who are the vandals. In the Bronx in two days, 23 groups of people vandalized the car. In Palo Alto nobody touched the car for a week.

      That's the difference community makes. In Palo Alto when I took the car away, three people called the police to say a stranger is stealing an abandoned car. When I did this study in New York, there were 75,000 abandoned cars on the streets, and I called the police and they were all vandalized, they were not left.

      So the broken windows theory says crime is a product of two things: 1) criminals, people have to have to criminal intent, but 2) it's also the perception of public disarray, and that's the situational thing. So it's both dispositional and situational. In New York they said, we're going to eliminate graffiti; we're going to clean up all the subways, we're going to board up all the windows; and we're going to get those 75,000 cars off the street. There was an instant reduction in crime. And they did the same thing in Seattle and a number of other places.
      So it's a small first step. Yeah, you're going to have to pay a lot of money, but you're going to have a mission and say, we're not going to allow that small first step to accumulate.

      I want to very quickly end on a positive note. Heroism as the antidote to evil, promoting the heroic imagination, creating a new educational system that instills in every child the self belief I am a hero in waiting and I will act heroically when my time comes. I want to focus away from evil with the notion of heroism.

      I want to democratize and demystify heroes. There's nothing in the hero that makes him or her special. It's the act that's extraordinary. I want to say, most heroes are ordinary people. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King-they are the wrong heroes for us because they are exceptional people. That's why we know their names. They devote their whole lives to sacrifice. You look at them and say, I'm glad somebody's doing it. It's not me. I'm not going to do that. Our kids have Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman. They're the wrong heroes because they have talents that kids can never have. I want to argue that heroes are everyday people, just like most villains are everyday villains. Hitler, Pol Pot, they are the exceptions-they are the equivalent of the traditional societal heroes and they are all rare and exceptional.
      So here's this guy, Tank Man; tanks are coming to crush the student rebellion on Tiananmen square. He goes in front and starts yelling and says, "Look, we're Chinese just like you. All we want is freedom. Don't kill us." And the tank driver who's also heroic turns around and goes away.

      Here's the guy who stopped Abu Ghraib: Joe Darby, GI Joe, the most ordinary person in the universe. People in his hometown were angry that he was a hero because they say he's nothing. He's the lowest level army reserve. He was not in the situation. A buddy of his showed him the CD. He looked at it and said, "You know this is horrendous. We're supposed to be bringing dignity and freedom, democracy to these people. We're bringing derogation." He takes the CD and gives it to a senior investigative officer. An army reserve private doing that is a great act of heroism. Guess what happened? They had to put him in hiding because people wanted to kill him, not only in his battalion but in his hometown. And they had to put his mother and wife in hiding because people wanted to kill them. There's a cost to being a hero, and you have to know that before.

      The reason I ended the Stanford prison study was not that I saw things that were terrible. This woman came down on Thursday night. She had been a former student of mine. We had just started dating, and she was a beginning professor at Berkeley. I was having people unconnected with the study come down to interview everybody, and I said come down at 10 o'clock, and then we can go to dinner. When she came down, I was sitting there as the prison superintendent, not for research. The guards lined up the prisoners, put bags over their heads, chains on their feet, each is holding the other, and the guards are screaming and cursing at them because this is their 10 o'clock toilet run. They're taking the prisoners to the toilet, and if they don't go then they s**t in a bucket or urinate in a bucket in their cell. And I simply look up and say, "Oh, good it's their 10 o'clock toilet run," and she's looking at this, you know, with tears in her eyes saying, "Look at this. This is not interesting. It's terrible what you're doing to those boys," and she runs out.

      We have this big argument and she says, "Wait a minute, you know they're not prisoners or guards. They are just boys, and you are responsible. If this is the real you-I thought you were loving and caring. I don't think I want to have anything more to do with you."
      And at that point, it was like the slap in the face. Oh, my God she's right. I was transformed, not just the kids. I had become the prison superintendent who was interested in the efficiency of my organization. I'm concerned not about prison. I'm concerned about the guards, as all staff is. You're concerned about the doctors and nurses if you're superintendent of a hospital. You really don't care about prisoners or patients. They come and go okay. And so I'm doing the administrative thing.

      We ended the study the next day. The good news was that I married her the next year at Stanford Chapel, and we lived happily ever after.
      So situations. Just as situations can inflame the hostile imagination in some people who become perpetrators of evil, it can also inspire the heroic imagination in others of us. Most people are guilty of the evil of inaction. Most of us follow our mother's admonition: Mind your own business. Don't get involved. But you have to say, "Mama, humanity is my business. I have to act on behalf of other people in need."
      And so the psychology of heroism is we're starting to develop courses, actual curriculum starting in the fifth grade summer camps, a hero workshop to encourage children in new courses to develop both this heroic imagination, self labeling but also teaching them talents. You have to learn some first aide skills. You have to learn to be a deviant.

      In my class at Stanford the kids have to be a deviant for a day in order to understand the group pressure on you to be your old self, not to be different.

      And so again, having kids and kids practice that and then have-and then have them do things like you're going to be a hero not a opposing the evil. You're going to get your parents to stop smoking because if they smoke they're going to die and if they smoke when you're around you're going to die and get parents to recycle, get parents, you know, to do a variety of good things as well as opposing bullying.
      So a major thing is how do you get kids to be the agent of change of bullies not just the system.

      And so here is ordinary people whose social action is extraordinary who act when others are passive and the key to evil-the key to hero you got to act when other people don't act and you have to act when other people don't act and you have to act socio centric or you give up your ego centrism knowing there could be negative consequences.

      So I want to end with you've all heard about this guy. I'm just going to show you like one minute. Wesley Autrey is a black guy. He's on a subway station in New York. A white guy falls on the tracks. 75 people freeze. He's got a reason not be involved. He's got two little girls.
      Instead he turns them over to strangers. He says take care of my kids and then he jumps down on the tracks to try to save the guy when the subway is coming in.

      He says I did what anyone could do. It's no big deal to jump on the tracks. But then the moral imperative is I did what everyone ought to do. So let this-let's look at him and then we'll end.


      MALE VOICE 4: On the New York City subway it's hard enough finding someone who will give up his seat to a stranger let alone willing to give up his life for one.

      MR. WESLEY AUTREY: The train was coming in like-right like that.

      MALE VOICE 4: It happened just - -. 50 year old Wesley Autrey, a construction worker and navy veteran, was standing on a subway platform with his two little girls when right in front of him a man started having a seizure.

      MR. AUTREY: - - and fall backwards. I seen a train coming but the train is so - - I'm like what do I do.

      MALE VOICE 4: Wesley jumped on to the tracks and thought if he could just lie on top of the man, keep him from flailing maybe the train would roll right over both of them. The clearance was exactly 21 inches; Wesley and the man 20 and a half.

      FEMALE VOICE 2: There was no way the train could stop. - - this gentleman could - - off the tracks. So he covered him with his body and pushed him down to - - the train wouldn't hit his face and - - him down under the tracks while the train came and rolled right over the top.

      MALE VOICE 4: It gave Wesley's children the scare of their young lives.

      FEMALE VOICE 3: I thought he was going to get killed.

      MALE VOICE 4: And Wesley the scare of his too.

      MR. AUTREY: I'm like talking - - I've got two kids up here looking for their father to come back. I don't know you and you don't know me but listen don't panic, you know, I'm here to save you.

      MALE VOICE 4: As for the guy Wesley saved he's 20 year old Cameron Hollopeter and other than a few scrapes and bruises his father says he's doing fine.

      MALE VOICE 5: Mr. Autrey's - - saved our son's life.

      MALE VOICE 4: You know the word hero is thrown around a lot now a days.

      MALE VOICE 6: - - the New Year and to save a live.

      MALE VOICE 4: It's nice to be reminded of what one really looks like.

      MR. ZIMBARDO: So one day my argument is you're going to be in a totally new situation. Its new situations that bring out the potential for evil as we saw in the prison study, Abu Ghraib, Milgram's [phonetic] thing and hero acts.

      One path is you become a perpetrator of evil; you join in with what everybody else is doing. The other path is you become guilty of the pass of inaction. But the third path is you go straight ahead and take their heroic path.

      So essentially it's-heroes again are ordinary people. They're not special. They're not more religious. They're not more compassionate. They're not any of these special things in them. That helps but hero can be anybody and what we don't know is what the catalyst for action because heroes have to act when the majority of people don't act.

      And how do we put that heroic imagination-how do we go from a thought or self label into action. And the key is you've got to think it and then the issue is you've got to do it. And so I thank you for posing power of evil systems at home and abroad and advocating-respect their personal dignity, justice and peace. Thank you.

Apr 23, 2008