2009 The Lucifer Effect (Philip Zimbardo)

Over thirty years ago, Phillip Zimbardo began his famous Stanford Prison Experiment. Designed to last two weeks, the SPE randomly divided student volunteers into prison guards and prisoners. After several dramatic and disturbing events, Zimbardo shut down the experiment after six days. Until recently, Zimbardo felt unable to unpack the psychological implications of the study. In The Lucifer Effect, using examples from history, his own experiment and recent events; Zimbardo explains how situational forces and group dynamics “conspire to make us all susceptible to the lure of the ‘dark side.’”

Excerpts from the letter of transmittal written by the students who chose the text:

The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil is an absolutely great Honors Read that satisfies or exceeds all of the criteria listed above. Phillip Zimbardo leads the reader on a journey through his famous Stanford Prison Experiment. In this experiment, he acted as the “Prison Warden,” and the student volunteers (deemed psychologically healthy) were split up randomly as either prison guards or prisoners. The experiment was intended to run for two weeks; however, Zimbardo had to shut it down after 6 days after several dramatic and disturbing events. This book asks two questions: The first question, as the sub-title states, is “Why do good people turn evil?” The second question goes further to ask, “Why do we do what we do?”

In the Honors Civilizations sequence, we think you’ll find yourself asking these questions quite often. Other texts within the sequence – such as Homer’s Odyssey, Dante’s Inferno, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and readings from Nietzsche (just to name a few) – all deal with these two fundamental questions, and then delve deeper to investigate, “Why do YOU do what you do?” The Honors College here at the University of Maine will assist you in your journey to find the answers.

Given how unspeakably important the questions in The Lucifer Effect truly are, we expect, nay, challenge, you to bring up Zimbardo’s text in each of your preceptorials over the next two years. We bet you will find it easy to relate this book to every text you come across within the Honors College curriculum.