Category: December 5 (page 1 of 3)

The Lucifer Effect

The Stanford Prison Experiment is recognized as one of the most critiqued psychological experiments of the last century due to its ethical controversy and questioned practices, however it is important and intriguing even moreso due to its shocking results. When “average Americans” quickly assume rules of prisoners and guards, their characteristics, interactions, and mentalities transform 180o, as “good turns evil.” In The Lucifer Effect, Philip Zimbardo offers his first-hand account as the conductor of the experiment, pulling from an extensive career as a psychologist and professor to supplement the details of the experiment with his own analysis after nearly 40 years. What marks the tipping point

About halfway through the novel, Zimbardo writes a 10-page section with the overarching title of ‘Why Situations Matter.’ Placed within the chapter of ‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’s Meanings and Messages,’ this subsection captures perhaps some of the most important writing within the novel conveying the author’s perspective. He focuses on an argument which claims that individuals, though dispositionally unique, are ultimately molded via the complexities of novel situations. Although it is much easier to imagine and attempt to emulate the human that is morally stable, right, and “good,” this requires a simplification of the human experience through “erecting a seemingly impermeable boundary between Good and Evil.” The ease of falling in either category is so high that we are not forced to question the in-between, or even entertain the possibility that we encompass pieces of both good and evil. Zimbardo uses multiple case studies to supplement the detailed account of the Stanford Prison Experiment, citing historical atrocities including those in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Burundi, and offering analogous experiences in cases such as Holocaust concentration camps and Abu Ghraib prison-guard interactions. Using these cohesive narratives as additional support for his claim, Zimbardo focuses on the role that everyday situations are at play in shaping who we are. We are formed by the common, everyday interactions and familiar situations in which we are placed including “rules, laws, policies, and pressures that constrain us.” However, the test of our “true colors” occurs when we are thrown into unknown territory with entirely new limitations and social standards.

A significant aspect of Zimbardo’s research is found in the voice of the experiment volunteers, who share their personal shock of their own transformation from “good to evil.” Many of the prisoners sought some sort of feedback loop, expecting policing on their own actions (despite serving as police figures themselves). One guard, noted as the most sadistic and aggressive, emotionally questioned, “why didn’t people say something when I started to abuse people?.” Zimbardo pens that knowledge democratizes evil, centralizing blame around Them, rather than Us when faced with a widespread issue. However, this is specific to Westernized societies modeled by individualism, which takes a very dispositional approach. This approach looks at the essentialist elements that “make you who you are,” from genetic makeup to unique personality traits.

The Lucifer Effect, though rooted in the gripping and disturbing narrative of the Stanford Prison Experiment, prompts compelling conversation through Zimbardo’s constant contributions of analysis and personal commentary. Additional case stories help ground the primary experiment and offer comparisons and contrasts by which the ethical and scientific elements of Zimbardo’s work are questioned.

Poster Review

This past Tuesday, we all came together to present our final projects. Many student from various classes came together to converse and learn more about what the other had been working on all semester. It was amazing to see the wide spread diversity among the projects. Especially  from the Origins vs. Chaos class, a class where we all came together two hours every Tuesday how all of our ideas varied. The ideas spared from the origins of evil to the origins of ancient medicine practices. It was great to walk around the room and hear the passionate talk among student and the pride that each person had in their project.

One of my favorite projects from the whole class was that of Bernard. Bernard looked at the origins of his tribe in Kenya. I found it fascinating to hear more about his tribe and how the life of his relatives there might vary greatly from the life he lives there. The ability he had to trace his heritage and families background by talking to people still living there and from reading book and other research was fascinating. In addition I think knowing your own origins gives order to some of the chaos which each person may face in their life. It gives one a better understanding to who they are and where they came from which helped to better understand ones self.

Another project which I found very interesting was the origins of evil. The project maybe me question wether or not everyone has the ability to be evil deep down. In addition I was very much unaware of the various different theories which people have developed to explain evil in our society. In addition the Stanford experiment of the simulated jail made me wonder how I would act in such a situation. I think every person would assume that they would take the high road and act in the moral way. However, the idea of power and authority overcomes even the most benevolent person. I think this idea can also be seen in Mligrams experiment. Milligrams experiment requires an actor in one room and a volunteer and a “director” in another room connected by a speaker. The director tells the volunteer to ask the person in the chair a question. If they answer the question falsely, the volunteer is told to press a button which administers a shock to the actor sitting in the chair. The volunteer is able to hear the screams of the actor as the power of the shock that they receive supposedly gets higher. This experiment shows that most people will continue to administer the shocks until they reach the high voltage level due to the fact that the director is telling them to. It shows how a non-evil person can commit a harmful act because they are being told to do so. If anything this is a prime example of how people will listen to any command as long as it is coming from someone whom they believe holds some sort of authority.

Overall, the poster presentation was a great night and it was wonderful to see what all of my classmates had been working so hard on.

Poster Review

Throughout this class we have been preparing ourselves to come up with topics to present and write research papers on. It was important that they are related to Origins and in particular order versus chaos. Continue reading

Celebration of Research Culmination

As a final lecture period, the students of ST232 and a few other Origins classes were asked to present their research. This research came in the form of posters, zines, and photography. My classmates and I were responsible for the poster portion of the presentations.
Continue reading

Celebration of Research: Final Reflection

This was the final week of our Origins seminar. In anticipation of the Celebration of Research, we were asked to prepare and present a draft of our poster about our research topic to present to the afternoon seminar.

Lightly workshopping the class’s posters during our longer afternoon seminar was especially nice, as I got the chance to see everybody’s posters (something which was not as easy later in the evening as I found myself rather occupied with my own poster). Although we had been discussing our research with each other throughout the semester, it was rewarding to see the culmination of each project. Many of the class’s projects took on an entirely new dimension when presented visually and to their full extent.

I was particularly enthralled by two students’ projects: Ronnie’s artistic presentation of various origin stories and Benard’s research into the origin of his tribe.

Beginning with Ronnie, the first thing which caught my gaze was the exuberant use of color. For each of her pieces, she had selected a vibrant palette of primary colors which seemed to both clash and harmonize at the same time, which I would have had a rather tough time achieving. I’m glad that there was a talented artist among the group to make up for absolute lack of creativity which I contribute. Beyond her use of color, she had managed illustrate a number of different origin stories (each with unique plots) in a cohesive style; perhaps an homage to the notion that we all share the same ultimate origin, but each maintain our own descriptions and philosophy on how our world came about.

Benard’s extensive research into the origin of his tribe frankly blew me away. With limited written resources, he had managed to compile an extremely far-reaching history on the origin, movements, conflicts, and tragedies of his tribe. His project, to me, really exhibited the power of strong traditions of maintaining oral histories (a concept which interlinks somewhat strongly with my own research topic). He had provided excellent visuals with informative annotated maps and pictures from the region. Benard was enthusiastic about his topic and excited to answer questions. His project really exhibited the effort that he put into it.

We would go on to revise our posters last-minute before the evening’s activities.

During the evening Celebration of Research, in the brief amount of time in which I was not discussing with Walker or benefiting from the generous buffet, I ventured over to the Zine tables to view the artistic compilations of our sister-class. Having used a number of resources allocated to them through the new MuleWorks Innovation Lab, the students had assembled a variety of projects which displayed their poetic abilities, creative vision, and perhaps an element of rather cynical self-awareness. One of the zines, made by Will Gross, included a strike-anywhere match annotated with the caption “Make this zine useful”, implying that the notion that the work might be better suited as a fire starter. I wouldn’t agree with that notion, as the content was perfectly apt, but I appreciated the humor.

Throughout this semester, this series has provided me with weekly material for contemplation. It has been an exciting experience to interact with such brilliant and enlightening guest speakers so consistently, something which very few undergraduates get to do in the way we do.

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