[Philip Zimbardo:] So if you want to change a person, you've got to change the situation. If you want to change the situation, you've got to know where the power is, in the system. So the Lucifer effect involves understanding human character transformations with these three factors. And it's a dynamic interplay. What do the people bring into the situation? What does the situation bring out of them? And what is the system that creates and maintains that situation?
So my book, "The Lucifer Effect," recently published, is about, how do you understand how good people turn evil? And it has a lot of detail about what I'm going to talk about today. So Dr. Z's "Lucifer Effect," although it focuses on evil, really is a celebration of the human mind's infinite capacity to make any of us kind or cruel, caring or indifferent, creative or destructive, and it makes some of us villains. And the good news story that I'm going to hopefully come to at the end is that it makes some of us heroes. This is a wonderful cartoon in the New Yorker, which really summarizes my whole talk: "I'm neither a good cop nor a bad cop, Jerome. Like yourself, I'm a complex amalgam of positive and negative personality traits that emerge or not, depending on the circumstances."
There's a study some of you think you know about, but very few people have ever read the story. You watched the movie. This is Stanley Milgram, little Jewish kid from the Bronx, and he asked the question, "Could the Holocaust happen here, now?" People say, "No, that's Nazi Germany, that's Hitler, you know, that's 1939." He said, "Yeah, but suppose Hitler asked you, 'Would you electrocute a stranger?' 'No way, not me, I'm a good person.' " He said, "Why don't we put you in a situation and give you a chance to see what you would do?"
And so what he did was he tested 1,000 ordinary people. 500 New Haven, Connecticut, 500 Bridgeport. And the ad said, "Psychologists want to understand memory. We want to improve people's memory, because memory is the key to success." OK? "We're going to give you five bucks -- four dollars for your time." And it said, "We don't want college students. We want men between 20 and 50." In the later studies, they ran women. Ordinary people: barbers, clerks, white-collar people.
So, you go down, and one of you is going to be a learner, and one of you is going to be a teacher. The learner's a genial, middle-aged guy. He gets tied up to the shock apparatus in another room. The learner could be middle-aged, could be as young as 20. And one of you is told by the authority, the guy in the lab coat, "Your job as teacher is to give this guy material to learn. Gets it right, reward him. Gets it wrong, you press a button on the shock box. The first button is 15 volts. He doesn't even feel it." That's the key. All evil starts with 15 volts. And then the next step is another 15 volts. The problem is, at the end of the line, it's 450 volts. And as you go along, the guy is screaming, "I've got a heart condition! I'm out of here!"
You're a good person. You complain. "Sir, who's going to be responsible if something happens to him?" The experimenter says, "Don't worry, I will be responsible. Continue, teacher." And the question is, who would go all the way to 450 volts? You should notice here, when it gets up to 375, it says, "Danger. Severe Shock." When it gets up to here, there's "XXX" -- the pornography of power.
So Milgram asks 40 psychiatrists, "What percent of American citizens would go to the end?" They said only one percent. Because that's sadistic behavior, and we know, psychiatry knows, only one percent of Americans are sadistic. OK. Here's the data. They could not be more wrong. Two thirds go all the way to 450 volts. This was just one study. Milgram did more than 16 studies. And look at this. In study 16, where you see somebody like you go all the way, 90 percent go all the way. In study five, if you see people rebel, 90 percent rebel. What about women? Study 13 -- no different than men. So Milgram is quantifying evil as the willingness of people to blindly obey authority, to go all the way to 450 volts. And it's like a dial on human nature. A dial in a sense that you can make almost everybody totally obedient, down to the majority, down to none.
So what are the external parallels? For all research is artificial. What's the validity in the real world? 912 American citizens committed suicide or were murdered by family and friends in Guyana jungle in 1978, because they were blindly obedient to this guy, their pastor -- not their priest -- their pastor, Reverend Jim Jones. He persuaded them to commit mass suicide. And so, he's the modern Lucifer effect, a man of God who becomes the Angel of Death. Milgram's study is all about individual authority to control people. Most of the time, we are in institutions, so the Stanford Prison Study is a study of the power of institutions to influence individual behavior. Interestingly, Stanley Milgram and I were in the same high school class in James Monroe in the Bronx, 1954.
So this study, which I did with my graduate students, especially Craig Haney -- we also began work with an ad. We didn't have money, so we had a cheap, little ad, but we wanted college students for a study of prison life. 75 people volunteered, took personality tests. We did interviews. Picked two dozen: the most normal, the most healthy. Randomly assigned them to be prisoner and guard. So on day one, we knew we had good apples. I'm going to put them in a bad situation.
And secondly, we know there's no difference between the boys who are going to be guards and the boys who are going to be prisoners. The kids who were going to be prisoners, we said, "Wait at home in the dormitories. The study will begin Sunday." We didn't tell them that the city police were going to come and do realistic arrests.
[Video - Student:] A police car pulls up in front, and 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, they put my hands against the car. It was a real cop car, it was a real policeman, and there were real neighbors in the street, who didn't know that this was an experiment. And there was cameras all around and neighbors all around. They put me in the car, then they drove me around Palo Alto. They took me to the police station, the basement of the police station. Then they put me in a cell. I was the first one to be picked up, so they put me in a cell, which was 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. They were taking this experiment too seriously.