Book Report

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Zimbardo,P. (2007). TheLucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.New York: Random House Publishing Group.


Thebook is a description of the “Stanford Prison Experiment” (SPE)by Zimbardo. It aims at investigating how people are attuned to theroles of a correctional officer and an inmate[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].Zimbardo comes to a conclusion that both subjects adjusted to theirroles easily. The prison guards had started harassing the inmates,hours after the experiment commenced. On the other hand, prisonersattuned to prison behaviors and were taunted with insults[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].The experiment took a different turn each day as the subjectsacclimatized to the new environment. Some of the prisoners had to bereleased because of serious psychological problems. The relationshipbetween the prisoners and guards changed with time as the inmatesbecame more dependent while the guards exercised their authority bybecoming more assertive and aggressive. The experiment was expectedto last for two weeks however, the prevailing condition in prisondidnot allow its continuance. Zimbardo had to terminate the experimenton the sixth day due to increased emotional impact on the subjects.The experiment proved that individuals tend to conform to the givensocial roles, hence changing their behavior.

ThePsychology of Evil: Situated Character

Thebook tries to establish the transformational process that takes placewhen good people do bad things. In accomplishing this objective, theauthor has delved to understand the question “what makes people gowrong?” There have been numerous and gross criminal activities thathave had a significant impact on the social and psychological aspectsof life. People have different characters, and it is important forpeople to have a moral sense before acting[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].The book highlights some incidences of rape around the world such asthe rape cases in Rwanda and Nanking. During the mentioned wars,soldiers turned out to be inhuman and aggressive because of thebattle experiences. The outcome was heinous acts such as rape andmassive killing of people.

Sunday’sSurprise Arrests

Inchapter two, the author is intrigued by the increasing cases ofimprisonment in America. The confrontations between Stanford studentsradical and the police led to arrests. The Stanford Prison Experimenttries to exemplify how people tend to confirm in real-life socialroles. The experiment provides individuals with the roles andresponsibilities of prison guards and inmates[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].It is evident that prison guards become attuned to their roles andbegin dehumanizing prisoners.

LetSunday’s Degradation Rituals Begin

Inchapter three, the author presents the prisoners being escortedthrough the Jordan Hall to Jail. The prison wardens are tough on theprisoners as they order them to strip down their clothes and getready for prison outfit. Prison guards exercise their authority bypunishing the inmates for petty mistakes like standing erect atattention. Prison guards read out the rules and regulations to theprisoners, which they are expected to adhere with no fail[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].The experiment allowed all the subjects, prisoners and the guards, towithdraw at any time. Some of the prisoners experienced excesspsychological problems and had to be released. However, the subjectsseemed to have adjusted to their respective roles. Rebelliousprisoners faced the full force of the prison guards.

Monday’sPrisoner Rebellion

Therising rebellion in prison forces the inmates to form a united frontagainst the guards. Prisoners assert that the prevailing conditionsin the jail are over becoming and harsh. As a result of the risingrebellion, the prisoners are allowed to a form a committee torepresent the rest of the inmates. The “Stanford County JailPrisoners’ Grievance Committee” are given the opportunity to airtheir needs to the Superintendent[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].

Tuesday’sDouble Trouble: Visitors and Rioters

Thecondition in prison is deteriorating as the prison guards fail toempty the cell buckets where prisoners urinate and defecate. Theprison system is flawed as prisoners are subjected to a unhygienicenvironment and beaten by the guards with their clubs[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].It is essential for prisoners to obey commands from the guards andadhere to the stipulated rules and regulations. Failure to followthe laid down rules results in confinement in a solitary cell.Despite the entire setting being an experiment, every person involvedhas taken their roles seriously as if it were a real situation.Prisoners are allowed to get in touch with the outside world byinviting potential visitors.

Wednesdayis Spiraling out of Control

Inthe fourth day, Father McDermott makes a visit to the prison with theaim of preparing a report on interpersonal violence. He gets thechance to speak to each inmate and engage in a discussion about thereason for the arrest. Most of the inmates deny the suspectedallegations and also air out their grievances. One of the prisoners,Stewart, is released from the prison and ordered to go home. However,he is not content with the Superintendent’s decision because he isdistressed that other inmates have branded him “bad inmate”[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].In prison, obedient inmates receive some special treatment such asvisitations from close family members.

ThePower to Parole

Theprisoners are given an opportunity for redemption through a parolehearing. However, the security guards have a significant impact onthe final decision by the parole hearing committee. For instance,prisoner 416 was not given the opportunity in a parole hearingbecause of his violation of rules[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].The author presents Carlo Prescott as “the head of the StanfordCountry Jail Parole Board”. The prisoners are brought forth forparole hearing followed by a series of questions from Carlo todetermine their innocence. The prisoners’ crimes are fictional, butthe parole team persistently asks them about their offenses. Prisoner416 says that he is ready to forfeit all the money owed to him if heis paroled because the time spent in jail cannot be equated to themonetary value.

Thursday’sReality Confrontations

Theauthor asserts that sometimes prisoners could refuse orders from theguards and as a result face punishment by being sent to the Hole,segregation. For instance, prisoner 5704 has been labeled as hostile,violent, and non-cooperative with the prison guards[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].As a result, he was put in the Hole in order to calm him down. Theauthor shifts focus on elucidating on guards` perception about theprison environment. For instance, Guard Ceros stipulates that “Ienjoyed bothering them….”[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].On the other hand, Guard Vandy acknowledges that prisoners aresheepish and deserve such a tough treatment to correct theirbehaviors.

Friday’sFade to Black

Inchapter nine, the author decides to call off all arrangements inprison and calls for a debriefing. Despite the notice from theSuperintendent to go easy on the inmates, the Guards still harass andbeat inmate 416, Clay[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].The prisoners were confused to hear that the experiment was over andit was all a test. After being told to go home, some of the inmateswere stranded and reluctant to proceed, thinking it was another test.The prisoners and guards tell their experience in prison and how theyadjusted to the experiences. Some of the guards attest that theexperience was awesome and enjoyed every moment in prison. On theother hand, prisoners are happy that the torment times have come toan end and can leave the mock jail.

Feelingsabout the Book

Ifeel that the experiment is life-threatening and sensitive because ofthe prevailing prison conditions and practices. The author of thebook, Zimbardo, designed the experiment with the aim of assessing theprojected outcome when people good people are placed in an evilplace. Students from Stanford University were eager to get involvedin the experiment because of the monetary value. It is evident, asthe experiment progresses that some of the prisoners are not willingto continue with the experiment and want parole. The subjects of theexperiment have mixed reactions towards the experiment. For instance,some the prison guards feel happy to harass and expose the inmates toa dehumanizing condition. The experiment turns out to be dangerous,and Zimbardo is forced to cut it short. Most inmates feel depressedand oppressed by the prison guards. For instance, disobedientprisoners are beaten and moved to the Hole.

Ibelieve the experiment took a more realistic turn, hence adverselyaffecting the subjects. Some of the guards’ behaviors and practicestowards the inmates were cruel and inhuman. As a result, the inmateswere put in a compromising position, knowing that it was a mockprison. However, the book is informative and tries to shed light onthe human behaviors when given a particular role. From theexperiment, the prison guards conformed to their roles, changingtheir traits instantaneously. Some inmates exhibited good behaviorswhile others attuned to the harsh environment by changing theirdemeanor. In my opinion, Zimbardo`s experiment had long-term impactson the prisoners and guards. According to some of the guards, theexperiment had an adverse psychological and social impact on theirlives. Some prison guards confessed that, weeks after the experiment,they felt guilty of the behavior and practices committed. Therefore,Zimbardo did not put into consideration the long-term impacts on thesubjects before undertaking the experiment.

Applicationto Real-Life

Theexperiment presented the real-life state of prison and its influenceon guards and inmates. As such, prison guards were tough andsubjected the inmates to harsh and cruel practices such as physicallyabusing them with their clubs. Arrogant and non-cooperative prisonersfaced the guards’ wrath. On the other hand, the cooperative andobedient inmates got special treatment for not causing trouble. Forinstance, some of the good prisoners were released during the parolehearing. Failure to eat symbolized disobedient and prison guards didnot take the matter lightly. As a result of the exposure to theprison environment, some inmates changed their behaviors to from badto worse. For instance, there are some instances when prisoners brokeinto fights with the guards. Prisoner 5704 assaulted Guard Ceros in aheated confrontation in the jail cell and consequently faced punitivemeasures[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].The prisoner was chained to his bed cell as a disciplinary actionagainst his insubordination case.

Thesubjects in the experiment proceeded with the task because of themonetary reward after completion. The author asserts that bothprisoners and guards started the experiment on a light note withoutmany infractions. However, as the experiment progressed, signs ofbehavioral change were epitomized as the subjects attuned to theirroles. The prisoners’ behaviors changed dramatically as a result ofexposure to a cruel and harsh atmosphere. On the other hand, theguards thought they would act in an appropriate manner, but thatchanged once the experiment kicked off. As Guard Markus reports,prisoners’ behaviors eventually change as they stay locked in thecells[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].The change in behavior arose due to pressure from other inmates andalso the prison guards who inflicted physical and emotional pain. Theprison state and condition does not provide ample space for prisonersto transform. As a result, their behaviors deteriorated as theexperiment progressed to the extent of physically abusing one of theguards.

The“Stanford Prison Experiment” reflects the daily social aspectwhere individuals are coerced by the prevailing situation andconditions to adjust to their roles[ CITATION Zim07 l 1033 ].People are good at following orders without questioning.Additionally, the experiment educates the general population thatpeople tend to fit into various roles easily by adjusting to theperceived traits. The society expects prison guards to be harsh anddomineering to the prisoners. Therefore, when granted theopportunity, they immediately get along with the role. Further, theexperiment has some aspects of the social learning theory. Forinstance, prisoners’ behaviors change a few days after theexperiment commenced as a result of the peer influence and pressure.The author mentions that the relationship between prisoners andguards continued to be cold as they all attuned to their respectiveroles.


TheZimbardo experiment plays a notable role in the social realm since iteducates individuals how evil settings can have adverse impacts ongood behavior. The book expounds on comments from both the prisonersand the guards. Some of the guards claimed that there was some partof them that changed after the experiment. The prison condition isusually unpleasant, and most of the employees are forced to lie tothe outside world about the prevailing conditions in jail. Forinstance, the prisoners were coerced into writing letters to theirfamily, mentioning how well they were treated and how pleasant theenvironment was in prison. Prisoners and guards realized somecharacter traits that they thought they did not have in them beforethe experiment. The prisoners started showing signs of infractions,insubordination, un-cooperativeness, while others turned violent. Onthe other hand, the prison guards epitomized domineering traits.According to some of the guards, the entire experiment wasfascinating because they enjoyed exercising authority over theinmates. Weeks later after the experiment, the reality of theiractions dawned on them that their actions were taken without moralsense.

Further,the experiment by Zimbardo helps people understand their roles andresponsibilities in the society and how the general populaceperceives their position. Moreover, the experiment tries to exemplifyprison condition and how prison guards treat inmates. Zimbardo’sexperiment is crucial and has played a significant role in legal andsocial aspects of life to explain more about prison environment. Theentire book puts the prison system on trial and tries to establishvarious factors that contribute to the perceived atmosphere.


Zimbardo,P. (2007). TheLucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.New York: Random House Publishing Group.