TED 2008: How Good People Turn Evil, From Stanford to Abu Ghraib
... Zimbardo conducted a now-famous experiment at Stanford University in 1971, involving students who posed as prisoners and guards. Five days into the experiment, Zimbardo halted the study when the student guards began abusing the prisoners, forcing them to strip naked and simulate sex acts.
His book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, explores how a "perfect storm" of conditions can make ordinary people commit horrendous acts.
Wired: How did what happened at Abu Ghraib compare to your Stanford prison study?
Zimbardo: The military intelligence, the CIA and the civilian interrogator corporation, Titan, told the MPs [at Abu Ghraib], "It is your job to soften the prisoners up. We give you permission to do something you ordinarily are not allowed to do as a military policeman -- to break the prisoners, to soften them up, to prepare them for interrogation." That's permission to step across the line from what is typically restricted behavior to now unrestricted behavior.
In the same way in the Stanford prison study, I was saying [to the student guards], "You have to be powerful to prevent further rebellion." I tell them, "You're not allowed, however, to use physical force." By default, I allow them to use psychological force. In five days, five prisoners are having emotional breakdowns.
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