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The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil
Book Review
Irfan Shahzad

Irfan Shahzad[1]


Book Title: The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil

Writer: Philip Zimbardo

Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks New York

Also available online:

Pages: 578 including notes and index

Category: Social Psychology


The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, is a remarkable, rather revolutionary research study in psychology on the understanding the effect of situational forces influencing man to turn evil. The book mainly based on the study of the abuses of the Abu Ghraib Prison and the Stanford Prison. We have heard much from media about the inhuman treatment with the prisoners of Abu Ghraib in Iraq by the US officials. The heinous photographs of celebrating the act of tortures on the helpless prisoners by the US military officials leaked out and created hue and cry across the globe. It was a blot on the Bush administration.

The researcher, Philip Zimbardo, witnessed the sadistic behaviour of the personnel of Stanford prison and Abu Ghraib. Also, he cited the tragedies like that of Rwanda, where a majority sect of Hutus turned into brutes to compete with each other to massacre, lynch and rape their peaceful neighboring minority Tutsis with an enthusiasm of national pride. Zimbardo analyzed the factors, which turn normal human beings into such evil beings, which in normal circumstances cannot be expected of them.

Zimbardo in contrast to dispositional theory of human behaviour emphasizes the situational factor, in broader sense, the system, which is the key player in producing such an evil behaviour, in human beings who are otherwise gentle in their individuality. He made an alarming conclusion that no one is immune to situational settings; everyone is prone to behave like an evil incarnate under the influence of situational forces. He writes:

I challenge readers to reflect on how well they really know themselves, and how much confidence they have in what they would or would not ever do when put into new behavioral settings.

 He demands of authorities that while blaming individuals of abuse of their power, they should consider the compelling influence of situation or system, too.

However, the writer ends on a positive note in the last chapter “Resisting Situational Influences and Celebrating Heroism”. He concedes the fact that some people do act against situational forces. They are rebels to the situation. He praises such individuals and calls them heroes: heroes of the situation. He encourages others to do the same. He suggests that the situational factor can be used to make people do heroic jobs.

The book is divided into 16 chapters. It paces like a novel. The setting is picturesque and alluring. A number of reviews and endorsements are furnished next to the title page.

All in all, the book is a guide to human nature. Politicians, administrators, policy makers and social reformers must read it to enlighten themselves about human nature.









1. PhD Research Scholar (Islamic Studies). Email:


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