Comments on The Lucifer Effect

Tom Maddux, Leading Brother in the Assembly 1971-1989

These comments Phillip Zimbardo's book, The Lucifer Effect, are excerpted from a discussion on the Assemblyboard, where it generated a discussion about whether or not Christians have special protection against such psychological manipulation.

The other day I was in the Buena Park library. As I looked over the shelf of new books, I spotted the name Phillip Zimbardo on the book, The Lucifer Effect. My interest was piqued immediately.

As I have done more reading on cults and mind control in the past few years the name Phillip Zimbardo has come up many times. He has been the president of the American Psychological Association, a researcher in his field as a college professor Stanford University, and an author of several books.

In 1971 he conducted an experiment at Stanford. A group of typical college students was selected, then divided into two sub-groups. One group was designated "guards", and the other was designated, "prisoners". The subjects were then placed in a facility where their conduct was monitored constantly by cameras.

The guards quickly became abusive, and then the prisoners became rebellious, and then depressed. The experiment was supposed to run for two weeks. After one week the monitors became so alarmed that they called it off! What had happened was that there was a prison rebellion with barricaded doors and attempts to break them down. When interviewed, the "guards" testified that they had rapidly come to hate the prisoners, and vice versa.

In this book, The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo uses what was learned in this experiment to shed light on many incidents in history including the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. He concludes that in just about any group of people there are factors present in human personalities that can be activated by placing the person in the right conditions.

I think that this goes a long way to explain the way the Assembly leadership developed and behaved, as well as the response of those subject to their influence. Increasing abusiveness producing rebellion, ("I'm outta here"), and depression, ("I wish I were outta here but I can't bring myself to make the break"), followed by depression-caused illness.

By showing that these possibilities are present in all of us, it seems to me that Zimbardo has unintentionally shed light on the question of how Christians can do such things. We do not shed human nature the day we are born again. So the right conditions can trigger these tendencies unless we "have our senses exercised to discern good and evil" and the spiritual strength to exercise enough courage to stand against the crowd. editorial review of Zimbardo's book, The Lucifer Effect:

What makes good people do bad things? How can moral people be seduced to act immorally? Where is the line separating good from evil, and who is in danger of crossing it?

Renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo has the answers, and in The Lucifer Effect he explains how–and the myriad reasons why–we are all susceptible to the lure of “the dark side.” Drawing on examples from history as well as his own trailblazing research, Zimbardo details how situational forces and group dynamics can work in concert to make monsters out of decent men and women.

Zimbardo is perhaps best known as the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here, for the first time and in detail, he tells the full story of this landmark study, in which a group of college-student volunteers was randomly divided into “guards” and “inmates” and then placed in a mock prison environment. Within a week the study was abandoned, as ordinary college students were transformed into either brutal, sadistic guards or emotionally broken prisoners.

By illuminating the psychological causes behind such disturbing metamorphoses, Zimbardo enables us to better understand a variety of harrowing phenomena, from corporate malfeasance to organized genocide to how once upstanding American soldiers came to abuse and torture Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib. He replaces the long-held notion of the “bad apple” with that of the “bad barrel” – the idea that the social setting and the system contaminate the individual, rather than the other way around.

This is a book that dares to hold a mirror up to mankind, showing us that we might not be who we think we are. While forcing us to reexamine what we are capable of doing when caught up in the crucible of behavioral dynamics, though, Zimbardo also offers hope. We are capable of resisting evil, he argues, and can even teach ourselves to act heroically. Like Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, The Lucifer Effect is a shocking, engrossing study that will change the way we view human behavior.

Philip Zimbardo is professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University and has also taught at Yale University, New York University, and Columbia University. He is the co-author of Psychology and Life and author of Shyness, which together have sold more than 2.5 million copies. Zimbardo has been president of the American Psychological Association and is now director of the Stanford Center on Interdisciplinary Policy, Education, and Research on Terrorism. He also narrated the award-winning PBS series Discovering Psychology, which he helped create. In 2004, he acted as an expert witness in the court-martial hearings of one of the American army reservists accused of criminal behavior in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. His informative website, is visited by millions every year. Visit the author’s personal website at

For more about evil, see the article, Malignant Narcissism: Quotations from M. Scott Peck's book, People of the Lie, and Evil: A Self-Examination.

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