When Good People Go Bad, Lucifer Effect Comes to Play
What makes good people go bad? More broadly, what makes people go bad in general? Humanity has always tended towards libertarian ideals; a more altruistic and humanistic view of society. Virtuous, educated, and a well rounded citizen has always come to mind in regard to the philosophers of old. So what makes it easy for humans to dehumanize humans? Throughout history there are many events that show the evil side of the human characteristic: the Holocaust and the lesser known Rape of Nanking, the Genocide of Rwanda, and there was Abu Ghraib. When it comes to these events majority of people may know their names, they may know how many people suffered, but most do not realize the extent of that suffering. In today’s society people are shielded by laws and government. They are shielded by the ideas of a proper society. But that does not shield a person from to the extreme. People in first world societies rape and kill and pillage daily. What makes those people different? They grew up in the same society. Maybe different circumstances, but the opportunity is there. Is it something that is bred within the bare necessities that make us human? One way to fight for ones humanity in any situation is to be educated on the subject known as the Lucifer Effect.This two part hub will delve into the recesses of human emotion and put forth some of the world’s most excessive and brutal crimes against humanity. We will take a look at how isolation of a human can create hysteria by analyzing the Stanford Prison Experiment, and how group think has damaging consequences when involved in the mass culture.
The Stanford Prison Experiment, Group Think, and Leaders
THE SPE, WHAT IS INVOLVED
The Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted by Philip Zimbardo who is a renowned psychologist. He has taught at many prominent schools – Stanford University, New York University, and Yale. The experiment was funded by the Department of the Navy to study the affects of prison life on a prisoner. After the experiment Zimbardo coined the phrase the “Lucifer Effect.” This ideal gives insight into the ability of people to become immersed in a role that requires them to act a specific way. The way they act can be situation based or disposition based. That means the situation can dictate the behavior, or a force within the person themselves dictates the behavior.
Zimbardo used this experiment to put situational forces against dispositional forces. The men were all chosen based off of an extensive psychological survey that deemed them mentally normal. This “normalness” was put to the test by putting the men into the roles of guard and prisoner, and seeing which came out on top. In either case, the “Lucifer Effect” analyzes the ability of good people to do bad things to other people.
The kind of experimentation that went on in the Stanford Prison Experiment is illegal today because of the extreme amount of stress and mental anxiety brought to the participants. Each participant is a signed volunteer and is offered money in exchange for their time, so consent is present. Still, after reading Zimbardo’s book, (“The Lucifer Effect”) it is hard to believe that such experimentation existed.
Though the experiment posed very ethical questions on execution, it has given insight into the development of dehumanization. Dehumanization is the main ideal needed to perform cruel acts upon others. It is the benchmark a society reaches to perform genocide. In this case, a person is not a person, they are a prisoner or scumbag or cause for the evil in the world. This gives the person who performs the evil acts a way out and a justification to the horrendous treatment of the people suffering.
The kind of experimentation that went on in the Stanford Prison Experiment is illegal today because of the extreme amount of stress and mental anxiety brought to the participants. Each participant is a signed volunteer and is offered money in exchange for their time, so consent is present. Still, after reading Zimbardo’s book, (“The Lucifer Effect”) it is hard to believe that such experimentation existed. Though the experiment posed very ethical questions on execution, it has given insight into the development of dehumanization. Dehumanization is the main ideal needed to perform cruel acts upon others.
It is the benchmark a society reaches to perform genocide. In this case, a person is not a person, they are a prisoner or scumbag or cause for the evil in the world. This gives the person who performs the evil acts a way out and a justification to the horrendous treatment of the people suffering.
THE EXPERIMENT UNFOLDS, LIFE AS A PRISONER
Zimbardo began the experiment by clearing out the basement of the Stanford University Psychology Department. Three make shift cells were created with three simple cots put up in each. The doors to the cells were barred. The guards banged their batons on these bars quite often to subdue the prisoners who were acting out. The cells opened up into a thin hallway that became known as the “Yard” and at one end of the yard was a small closet that became known as the “Hole.” This was where the most difficult prisoners spent most of their time. It was a small closet where one had to stand or sit in complete darkness. The Stanford Prison Experiment was meant to mirror a real prison as much as possible. The local police in Palo Alto, CA took part in a simulated arrest of the designated prisoners.
A Student Arrested
To extend insight into the complex situation each individual faced in this experiment, let us take a look at what transpired in this experiment: You are a person with moral values. You do well in school and have good working relationships with friends and family. There is nothing out of the ordinary with how your brain works and, for all intensive purposes, you are psychologically normal. You are then arrested in front of your family and friends, taken to the station to be processed, and brought to Stanford University basement prison with a blindfold covering your eyes to give the illusion of time/place distortion. You are then stripped naked with the other prisoners and forced to stand there for an obscene amount of time. The guards delouse you, hand you your new clothes and linens, all the while laughing and joking at your naked form. At first it seems comical. It is just an experiment after all. However, this experiment becomes all too real for those involved. Your hair is covered with nylon pantie-hoes and a chain is locked around your ankle. This further degrades the prisoners and forces them to recall their punishment every time their foot makes the chain jingle. The prison becomes the prisoners and nothing else. The prisoners are allowed sleep but are awoken at random intervals to endure harsh counts.
The guards force them to do push ups and degrade them with further name calling. Prisoner 8612 and 5704 have a hard time adjusting and stage a prisoner protest where they move their beds against the door so the guards cannot get in. This event spirals into the guards using the punishment of other prisoners against those prisoners doing badly.
The Stanford Prison Experiment brought immense questions to the table. It was such an intense experiment that Philip Zimbardo cancelled it after just five days. He played the role of the Superintendent of the prison and actually found himself engrossed in the workings of the experiment as if it was an actual prison. This fact frightened him. He, a man who has always been kind and fought for just cause, had allowed these men to suffer while he watched.
It made him sick. Throughout the experiment the prisoners faced committee delegations for their rights, and they faced a parole board run by a past inmate who fell into his role just as ferociously. By the end the guards began to issue demands that called for homosexual like acts between prisoners. What is it about power in a prison that brings humans to this degraded level? In the first thirty-six hours of the experiment prisoner 8612 had a mental breakdown and is set free. Another day or two after prisoner 819 suffered the same fate with a fit of depression.
How is it that completely healthy individuals, physically and mentally, fall into depression and anxiety at such a level within an experiment after only three days? The fact that it was an experiment should have been a buffer for them to cling on to, but the prisoners became so involved in their roles that they started to believe that they cannot get out. It is a simple idea but very powerful. Freedom weighs heavily upon the mind of a human. Freedom gives the person the ability to do as they please, to have leisure time, to relax, and to enjoy the world for what it is. Freedom gives a person the ability to set goals, have kids, and become part of society. When that ideal, these ideals, are taken away from someone then all that is left is a shell of their former selves. This loss of freedom comes from how the guards turned their identities against them. By taking away their name, their rights, their image, they become dehumanized.
8612 fought to get out of the prison. At least that is what he made it seem like. Zimbardo was bound by contract so if 8612 wanted out, he would have had no choice but to let him out. Instead, Zimbardo talked with him and reasoned with him why he should stay. To someone who had experienced an extreme amount of anxiety brought on by his confinement, the idea that he was forced to stay stuck. He raved on to the other prisoners that they could not get out even if you asked. This was an important moment in the experiment because it forced the prisoners to realize that they might be real prisoners. Their mental state deteriorated till they were completely subdued and began to obey every command. This proves that perception and context are very important to group think mentality. Stickiness is a term used to describe one of the laws needed for an epidemic to form. It is a law that leads to a “tipping point.” 8612’s perception of the system stuck, and the tipping point in the experiment was that ninety-nine percent of the prisoners began to obey. This opens up the realm of personal characteristics that create a tipping point. Characteristics that can sway group think from one end to the other.
Guards and Leaders: The Why Model
Probably the most interesting part of the experiment is the transition of the guards from normal individuals to domineering John Wayne types. At first the guards did not know what to do. They were just went off of what was said in the briefings before the experiment began, but by the end they all had developed their own personalities. Guard Arnett and Hellman were considered the most cruel while some developed a more passive aggressive state. Even though two or three of the guards renounced aggressiveness and went by the book; they ignored the extreme measures done by the crueler guards. This included physical abuse by Hellman, prisoner on prisoner homoerotic abuse, and hours of push ups during counts. This stance became easy because of the dehumanizing effect of prison life. It gave them justification. Their passivity came from what is called group think. One will not act unless someone else does. If no one acts in a group the chance of others acting is small and often nonexistent. Passivity is often the issue in regards to crimes against humanity and it is the reason humans have yet to evolve above their current mental state. War is still prominent. Prejudice is still rampant.
Leaders are those who do not fall into group think. They break the mold in a way that people follow because they think differently. One prisoner, 2093, exhibits extremely strong moral values during the prison experiment. In fact his willpower towards specific scenarios gives another prisoner, 416, the will to continue refusing to eat. He went on a hunger strike to oppose the guards ever increasing human right’s violations. Overall, this turned a lot of prisoners against these two because their morals were inflicting punishment upon them. This was because there was no attempt at communication between prisoners. After the first day and the first revolt, the guards cracked down and the prisoners became stagnant and obedient. Once at this level it would take someone with a strong voice to bring them out of it. 2093 and 416 had the ideals, but lacked the voice. Both are needed within a leader.
Also, the thought process of a leader is different. Majority of the world thinks in a what how model. They want to know what they want and how to get it rather than why they want it:
This is an important distinction in thought because it separates success from failure. Most companies, like Apple, utilize this concept in their marketing approaches. Why it works so well is that the portion of the brain, called the limbic brain, processes emotion in the forms of trust, hate, likes, dislikes, love, lust, depression. By utilizing a model that affects the emotion of a person a company, a leader, anything, is able to sway those people to follow them. When a company or person utilizes the what and how model they are appealing to the parts of the brain that process the physical world:
- Neo Cortex: Processes language and analytic thinking.
- Brain Stem: Survival instincts.
This can appeal to people in a small way, but it does not gain the persons trust and full attention. Simon Sinek loves to say “People don’t buy what you do, people buy why you do it.” When faced with the SPE the prisoners and guards all fall victim to a what/how model of thought. The guards wanted control and how they got it was harsher punishments. The prisoners wanted less punishment and how they got it was to completely follow orders. No prisoner, except 416 and 2093, disregarded these survival instincts for the simple question of why. They lacked the voice needed to push the other prisoners to begin to question this as well. This was due to their lost freedom, dehumanizing torment, and their strict adherence to the what/how model of thought.
Where it Happened
Abu Ghraib Juxtaposes the Stanford Prison Experiment
Abu Ghraib is a prison located in Iraq. The prison is used to detain high level prisoners who have the ability to offer high level intelligence. This prison resembles Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The incidents reported at this prison shed light on the practices the United States fell into after the implementation of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act also saw a wide spread expansion and creation of different agencies – notably, the NSA.
This photo here sheds some light on the situation that developed in Abu Ghraib, and it provides a reality that most Americans did not believe existed. America was always a country built upon freedom and natural rights. Yet, Abu Ghraib is a big, black mark in the ledger for the U.S. What is interesting is that the examples given at Abu Ghraib have a direct correlation to those exhibited in the SPE done almost thirty years previously.
The Military and the Government would state that it is the works of a “few bad apples.” But the SPE gives insight into a different answer. Remember, it is the people that create the situation that breeds the specific outcome. That is the main theme in Zimbardo’s experiment. So would it not be the responsibility of those who put soldiers in the situation to begin with? The men in the SPE were all healthy minded individuals. Yet there personalities changed so drastically due to the situation that it is hard to lay blame on the individual when there is more at work. Humans are malleable. They are affected by their environment to an extent that when a person watches a movie by themselves, they may dislike it. If they watched that specific movie with a group who all enjoyed it, they would have a different opinion. The SPE and Abu Ghraib prove that situation matters.
In fact, the protocol outline mirrors a list of rules given to soldiers when they have to cooperate with the population of Iraq. On that list are examples of how not to offend a person within that culture. Those rules are used against them when it comes to how torture is implemented. Examples of some of the protocols are:
- Hooding: The act of placing a hood upon someones head during torture to disorient them. This is also a way to bring dishonor upon someone of Muslim faith. This was known to last consecutive days.
- Flexi Cuffs: Used to restrain. Often they were placed on too tight and caused lesions and other injuries.
- Beatings: Usually done with the butts of rifles, fists, legs, and anything else at the military personals disposal. The person is usually hooded during a session such as this as to ramp up the anxiety.
- Nakedness and Homosexual Acts: The person is paraded around nude, mocked, sexually molested, forced to sexually molest other prisoners, taken photos of, and forced to masturbate in front of military personnel. (Mainly female) This is comes back to the idea of dishonor. To a Muslim, homosexual acts and sexual acts in public bring dishonor to ones family. This helps the process of psychological torture.
- Flexi Cuffed and made to stand: The person is forced to stand upright for days on end. The person is usually attached to a lamp post or bars. This causes extreme exhaustion. A person may be made to stand or squat with hands raised to long periods of time as seen from the picture to the right.
- Exposure: Loud music, blaring lights, no sleep, beatings, and electric shock. All are used to give the impression of time distortion which adds to the mental anxiety of the prisoner.
- Other physical abuses were also documented. Pouring phosphoric lighting fluid over prisoners, rape, using military dogs to scare prisoners, sodomizing a prisoner with those same phosphoric lights, etc.
Abu Ghraib was a prison bred for this kind of situation to play out. This is because as the war in Iraq progressed the general population was losing sympathy for the war. The U.S held Iraq, but troops continued to die by guerrilla warfare tactics. The war costed millions a day. And there was nothing to show for it. This caused pressure within the military intelligence ranks to produce results. This led to a widespread campaign of attack and gather. Military personnel would storm a city by night and gather all suspected targets which led to many
miss-arrests. In fact:
“Certain [coalition forces] military intelligence officers told ICRC that in their estimate between 70 and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.”
So not only did they increase searches and seizures, but they also seized men and women who offered absolutely no information. There was such an influx of prisoners that military personnel ran thin. This meant that soldiers not trained or equipped with how to torture someone was given the go ahead to torture. (Military Intelligence called the torture process, “softening them up.”)
Again, this goes back to situational forces. They placed these soldiers in the situation that they would need to be in to perform these acts against humanity. One thing the military breeds is the strict adherence to rules, regulations, and orders. One follows the rules of a commanding office. That is without question. Already the situation is biased. A command will come down the chain and the soldiers will listen. It is hard to find someone in the military that exhibits the leadership quality that might have stemmed the flow of terrible acts, and, as the SPE exhibits, the situation dictated the behavior of the soldiers.
Conclusion to Pt. 1
This article was created to push the person reading it to take a look at themselves. One could say that it would never happen to them, but how could you know? Being informed is the best weapon against this kind of manipulation. Changing how to think is very important. It is not just about what/how. It is all about why. The next part will outline one of the worst Genocides in history; in just three months a million people died. This happened in 1994, not too long ago, in Rwanda. This is why it is important to be informed. Rwanda is a prime example of a massive group think project that led to the extermination of a people. Those that are in prison today state they do not feel bad for their actions; they are still corrupted. What causes this corruption and blind hate? How can one utilize the information on tipping points, epidemics, and propaganda to defeat the darkest of our personalities? Subscribe and find out next week.