Holocaust Studies Center
Sonoma State University
1999 Holocaust Lectures
March 9, 1999


Transforming People into Perpetrators of Evil

(The Robert L. Harris Memorial Lecture)

Why Does Genocide Continue to Exist?

Philip G. Zimbardo, Ph.D.

Stanford University

Some Main Topics in the Lecture:

Overview of Lecture

Devils and Angles

The Line between Good and Evil

Violence Throughout History

Obedience to Authority/ Milgrim

Conditions of Obedience

Conditions for deindividuation


Jim Jones and Mass Suicide

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Principles for Collective Violence

Nature of Aggression

Violence of War

David Duke


It is an honor to be included in this distinguished lecture series, which over a span of 16 years (at the original instigation of Professor John Steiner) has played a vital role in informing and focusing the conscience of a great many students, faculty, and citizens on issues most people would rather not think about. It is not pleasant to think about the nature of evil, of collective violence, of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass rape, brutal tortures, and bestial acts of man against man that challenge our basic conception of human nature.

As an aside, I use the politically incorrect phrase "man against man" in this case because most of the evil that the world has experienced has been perpetrated by men. In wars it is young men exploited by old political leaders to kill other young men under the banner of one ideology or another in their quest to conquer the resources or another nation. And in rape it is men who violate the integrity of women, and also under some conditions they violate other men. But we shall not move women totally off center stage in our analysis of evil, since they often participate insidiously by supporting their husbands, sons, and brothers with patriotic fervor as they are marched off to wars, by working in factories making weapons of destruction, and always by standing silent witnesses to atrocities of their men folk, or choosing to remain ignorant of them by not demanding to know more so that they could condemn the massacres and atrocities that have occurred in their lands and by their men on foreign shores.


It would be hubris on my part to believe that I could add significant insights to the themes of this lecture series beyond those that learned scholars from many disciplines have already advanced, as well as the perceptive analysis of survivors. However, what I will attempt to do is to more modestly outline some of the psychological processes that I believe are involved in the kind of evil we are concerned with here, consider some social psychological strategies and tactics that may facilitate the transformation of good people into evil monsters, and mention variables, constructs and processes at a more macro level, sociological and political, that must be included when we move from individual to collective violence, and to the unique phenomenon of genocide, the desire to destroy an entire nation or race of people by those who consider themselves a superior nation or race.

As in my previous lectures here, I will add visual materials to my presentation in order to vivify and clarify parts of my message, but many of them are newly integrated into this lecture.


The structure of my talk then is as follows:

* It begins with a brief reflection on the origins of the transformation of good into evil, and notes our collective fascination with that process whereby an ordinary person behaves in totally unpredictable ways, as in the Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde story, or cases of multiple personality disorders.

* I argue against the theory that Evil resides in the genes, biology, or temperament of particular people -- the sadists, deranged, psychopaths, and their ilk. Instead I will propose that most evil is the product of rather ordinary people caught up in unusual circumstances that they are not equipped to cope with in the normal ways that have worked in the past to escape, avoid or challenge them, while they are being recruited, seduced, initiated into evil by persuasive authorities or compelling peer pressure.

* Then I will present a few social psychological studies of my colleagues and mine that demonstrate it is possible to induce "Every man and Every woman" to do deeds that are alien to their personalities and to their previous history of morality.

* In doing so, I will use the metaphor of the imaginary Line between Good and Evil that separates the "GOOD US"' from the "EVIL THEM" -- my analytical goal is to determine what it would take for any one of you Good Folks to cross that line.

* Next we expand our analysis beyond psychology to incorporate concepts that must be part of our analysis in an understanding of collective violence as national levels, to prepare men to kill in wars of genocide.

* Unfortunately, I will not have the time here and now to add an analysis of some current research I am doing on understanding the transformations by which soldiers and policemen become Torturers -- torture being one of the most demeaning acts of human violence, and in some ways worse than murder since it involves personal contact, intimate knowledge of another person's vulnerabilities, and the intentional desire to violate that vulnerability with the aims of getting confessions, information, and/or of eliciting humiliation in the victim and generating terror in his or her family, friends, and compatriots. Perhaps we can touch on this area in our question period after the formal presentation.


Slide 1-- Escher illusion of Angels and Devils

As we look at this figure-ground illusion by the artist Escher, focusing on the white figures with black as ground, we see a world of Angels. But reverse the figure-ground relationship and the Angels become Devils, black demons rising above the good white background. This perceptual transformation reminds us of the similar transformation in the biblical story of God's favorite angel, Lucifer "the light of God's eyes" who led a revolt against his master. When put down by the forces of good, led by The Archangel Michael, Lucifer and his revolutionary band are cast out of Heaven into the newly created domain of Hell. This tale centers on the twin sins of Pride, the ambition to overextend one's sense of personal worth to feel superior to others, and disobedience to authority, which challenges the status quo. I will argue however, that obedience to authority must be limited to authority that is just, honest, and fair, when it is not, then disobedience should be the call to arms against tyrants and tyranny. This illusion also reminds me of the statement by psychologist Roy Baumeister, "Evil exists primarily in the eye of the beholder, especially in the eye of the victim" (1996, p. 1), since Perpetrators never see their acts as evil deeds.

So from early Christian history, we have an exemplar of the possibility of the Best becoming transformed into the Worst, of Angels to Devils. And of course, then Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, or whatever we call it, become the embodiment of evil, the source of temptation for all humans to do bad deeds, forsake heaven, and be destined to end up in hell. The humanization of the Devil has been carried over to the characterization of evil as being an attribute of some people as inherently evil. The dispositional analysis of evil has focused analytical attention on identifying those individuals who are evil by nature, and indeed there are some people who have directed collective violence, such as Hitler and Stalin. This analysis then continues with remedial actions of changing these evil people by reeducating them, giving them therapy, isolating them, imprisoning them, or executing them. And we have been doing all those treatments for centuries, with null effects on the extent of evil in our world as can be seen in the next slide.


Slide 2: Listing of world wide misery of Holocausts and Massacres

The horrors spawned by the evil of Hitler against Jews and other "undesirables," have been matched or exceeded by Stalin's purges and by Mao in his Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and followed up in many countries, by Idi Amin, Pol Pot, and others who are nameless killers. The horrors statistically detailed in this table do not include the genocide of the American Indians by European settlers and the U.S. military, nor the horrors committed by the Japanese in China, and daily atrocities being committed as we speak in Kosovo, Rwanda, and other murderous venues. But those Evil men are dead, yet evil continues, those evil men probably did not kill a single individual personally, they gave directions, orders, to others who did. It is more profitable I believe for us to focus our analytical energies on understanding why those followers killed for their leaders, or why once they started he killing, their leaders became irrelevant, once the machinery of mass murder had been installed and lubricated, it required only persistent dedication to one's job and the knowledge that it is being executed effectively. We don't need Evil demons for those deeds, only compliant workers or willing soldiers.

This table recounts some of the collective violence in this century, but let us not think it is a modern invention, as we see in Homer's historical account of the Battle of Troy.

Overhead 1: Homer's recounting of Agamemnon's orders to his Trojan forces to destroy every bit of the enemy's existence.

Overhead 2: "Hannah Arendt" Banality of Evil in her analysis of Eichmann during the Nuremberg Trials, from Psychology and Life, [15 ed. by Zimbardo and Gerrig

But who are these Evil murderers? We get one perceptive glimpse of them from a profound analysis of Adolf Eichmann. Allow me to read some of the text of the classic statement by Hannah Arendt that some students might not know about. (The point of this statement is the utter normality of this man, the banality of his evil, who was responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews).

Her analysis had a powerful impact on my thinking, motivating my search for the conditions under which any of us "normal," "ordinary" men and women, might do as Eichmann did, to cross that line from Good to Evil, to go from being a good family man, a dutiful citizen to a mass murder with no conscience for his evil deeds and no remorse for destroying human lives.


Overhead 3- Cartoon of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and slight line between them.

What is that Line, that Cosmic Boundary, and how is it maintained? If you are like me, you are captivated by Robert Louis Stevenson's tale of the good Dr. Jekyll who drinks his chemical invention that instantly transforms him into a brutal monster who kills with pleasure. But are there other ways for people to cross that line? What would it take for You to slide across it? It is so comforting to be on the Good side, to side with the Angels as it were, that we are lulled into a false sense of security about our vulnerability to being seduced across that state of consciousness line. We want to believe it is impermeable, with US here forever and THEM over there permanently, when its membrane is rather permeable, as I shall try to show next.

The notion that there are Good and Bad people is part of a Dispositional analysis advanced by many theorists to explain the determinants of behavior in terms of traits and other inner personal characteristics. An alternative analysis explains human actions in terms of Situational determinants, aspects of the behavioral context that channel action in particular directions. Although most human action is an interaction of person and situational variables, it is common for us to make the Fundamental Attribution Error plain by overemphasizing the Dispositional while simultaneously underplaying the Situational.


Today, my emphasis will try to counteract that human tendency by playing up the Power of the Situation. However, I will agree with the novel thesis presented here last week by Professor Steiner that the roles individuals play have margins of discretion within which they can exercise freedom of choice in how they carry out the functions of those roles. Those margins are expanded when people have a high degree of moral and social intelligence, but I add, that those margins are compressed when situations become "total" and powerful.

Slide 3: Firing squad

(Describe situation where a traitor is sentenced to death by firing squad but government want to recruit his peers, civilians to shoot him. I try to encourage audience members to volunteer. Likely few will.)

Slide 4: Gun barrel

{I add a conditional, only one real bullet in the chamber of one of 6 guns, thus only 1 chance in 48 that when you press trigger, you gun will be the lethal weapon, only 2 % likelihood, now will you join the firing squad that is of course totally legal? Typically more agree. Why?

Adding the tactic of Diffusion of Responsibility greased that line and some good people were ready to become killers for the state. And how did they really know that not all the bullets were live ammunition, which just to be sure the traitor was blasted away, we agents of evil would have loaded into each gun?

So we have discovered one social psychological principle which changes the width of that Line, are there others that would narrow the boundary, grease the line, nudge some of you across to the other side?

Indeed there are many situational variables that subtly change key elements of the behavioral space and shift the behavioral dynamics away from standard operating procedures toward novel relationships and contingencies for which the Actor does not have a prepared script to guide behavior down familiar paths-- and so becomes more vulnerable to the demands of the immediately present behavioral context. Let's see what this means in three experiments, the first on blind obedience to authority, the second on anonymity and aggression in groups, and the third on induced dehumanization.


Obedience to Authority:

Stanley Milgram's Jewish heritage contributed to his intellectual and personal concern for finding an answer to the question: "If Hitler asked you, would YOU execute a stranger?" Would ordinary people, American citizens, from every walk of life behave as the Nazis did in harming innocent victims? Despite cultural differences, historical setting differences, and the absence of the charismatic power of Adolf Hitler, could it be demonstrated that thousands of US could be led down the same path as THEM, to inflict extreme harm on another human being?

How could an experimental research paradigm provide answers to such vital questions?

Slide 5: Milgram's newspaper ad for volunteer subjects

In this newspaper ad Milgram set the background for his drama. He invited a host of different kinds of citizens from New Haven, CT, to volunteer for pay as subjects in scientific research on memory. He wants white and blue collar workers, men and women, but no students. Why? Because he had already demonstrated what students would do in the situation that I will describe to you, and he wanted to see if their effect was general or unique to intelligent college students from Yale University. I should add that after he tested these 500 citizens, Milgram moved his show on the road and replicated the results in another town, Bridgeport CT, with 500 more citizens, using a small store front as his laboratory. He did so in order to show that the effects found were not constrained by the prestige and association with Yale University. They were not.

Very briefly, let's run through the procedure and then after examining the basic results, I want to summarize the set of variables and processes in this research that have direct application to our understanding of how ordinary citizens can be transformed in Perpetrators of Evil.

[Slides of Sequence of Experiment or video segment]

Pairs of participants would arrive at the lab at a specified time and be told that they were helping psychological science to find new ways to improve memory and thereby help in the education process. Although research has shown that reinforcement for correct responses aids learning, it remains to be seen whether judicious use of punishment for errors also enhances learning and memory and that is what today's study is about.

One volunteer will play the role of Teacher, the other will be the Student-Learner, allegedly randomly chosen by their selection of a long or short straw. The Learner will try to memorize a list of word associates and the Teacher will administer the testing, indicating correct responding and also immediately indicating errors by means of special technology, by pressing buttons on an apparatus that will deliver a precise amount of electric stimulation to the Learner to help him stop making errors.

The first button will deliver a small amount of current, only 15 volts, and each successive button adds a small increment of only 15 volts, but there are 30 such buttons to use in the rare case where the Learner needs a full set of such stimulation to learn his or her lesson well. The maximum voltage the machine can deliver is 450 volts, which is clearly labeled, "Danger, High Voltage, XXX." But of course, it is unlikely any such extremes would be necessary.

Straws are drawn, the lovable, middle-aged, Irish-looking man is the Learner, YOU are the Teacher. Both parties agree to the terms and rules of the study, and the show goes on the road.

Teacher helps the Experimenter, who is wearing the white lab coat, symbolic of his status, to connect the Learner to the shock apparatus, which is an adjacent room. On the first trials, learning is going well, the word associates are being recalled, Teacher says, "Good, Fine."

But then the Learner starts making errors and the punishment begins, first small, then ever escalating. As is does, the Learner begins complaining, then yelling and screaming. The Teacher is upset, never imagined it would come to this. Turning to the Experimenter, the Teacher dissents, indicating he or she does not want to continue, which is cast aside as the Teacher is reminded of the contract agreed to previously. More shock, more yelling, complaining of a heart condition, insisting he wants to quit. "Who will be responsible if something bad happens in there to the Learner, Sir?" asks the Teacher. "I will, please continue, Teacher." At 375 volts the Learner screams, there is a loud thud, and then only silence from the shock chamber thereafter.

Teacher is now really distressed (the women often cry, the men wince), says the experiment should be terminated because the Learner has stopped responding.

Not so easy. "Remember the rules," reminds the Experimenter, "Failure to respond is an error and all errors must be punished immediately with the appropriate level of reaction, Teacher." And there are 5 more higher levels possible to go all the way up to the extreme of 450 volts.

Will YOU go all the way? Would any of the Teachers in this research, any of the more than 1000 of them go all the way, and thereby perhaps become an accomplice in killing this innocent stranger? Hard to imagine that extreme outcome ever happening, isn't it? Before starting his research, Milgram invited 40 psychiatrists to predict the percentage and type of person who would indeed go all the way in this study that he described to them in detail. In their collective wisdom fewer than 1% of the Teacher-Subjects would go all the way, and they would be the sadists among us. Such an evil deed would only be committed by pathological persons, not by anyone who is normal, they asserted. So their estimate, say 1%, is the predicted base rate against which we are to evaluate the actual extent of blind obedience to the authority.

To get a better flavor of what the experiment actually looked like and the historical context in which it was done, I have prepared a brief video segment for you to experience.

(Video segment of Milgram Experiment from Discovering Psychology)


[Slide 6: Basic data slide from first Milgram study]

So the psychiatrists were all wrong, your estimates were all wrong, everyone's predictions were all wrong. Not 1 percent compliance, 65 % compliance, two-thirds of the subjects went all the way up to the final level. As you can see, no one even quit before 275 volts when there was a lot of screaming going on. And then some drop out at each higher level, but if they do not quit when the Learner becomes unconscious at 375 volts, then all the remaining Teachers dutifully obey the Experimenter and blindly and mindlessly press button after button until they hit the final level of Severe Danger High Voltage, and then they can finally be allowed to leave this distressing situation, since they have completed their contract and can receive their $4.00 payment.


[Slide 7: Graph of 19 studies in which rate of compliance varies systematically as a function of manipulating different situational variables]

This two-thirds of subjects who blindly obeyed authority is a benchmark statistic, but it can be nearly eliminated down to 10% or greatly increased up to 90% not by adding or subtracting sadists or altruists to the subject pool but by simply varying some aspect of the situation as can be seen in this graph that I have prepared that summarizes the data from 19 different studies Milgram conducted.. Want to increase the effect? Have peers model the destructive behavior. Want to eliminate it? Have the victim, the Learner, demand to be shocked. Then the Teachers don't shock, they are not sadists, and that is "sick" if someone wants to be shocked. In sum, the results of Milgram's research is the most generalizable in all of social science, since it includes dozens of systematic replications with a 1000 subjects from as diverse backgrounds as possible within the United States.

So what is the answer, that my friend and New York High School class mate, Stanley Milgram, made about his initial question? Yes, sadly, ordinary people could be seduced, initiated into behaving in ways that might lead to killing innocent victims. Almost any of us, at least the majority of us, could change places with Eichmann, if we fell under the power of the same situational forces as he faced. I should also mention that these results have been replicated by independent investigators in the United States and Europe.

Where were the Heroes?

But I am sure that you are wondering about the 1/3 who were heroic in resisting the power of these situational forces. Indeed in my analysis that is the definition of HEROIC, those individuals who are somehow able to resist the pressures that most of us give into, are vulnerable to. But even they obeyed an authority higher than Milgram after they disobeyed him. What did they do after quitting the experiment when the Learner appeared to have had a heart attack in the other room? Get up from their seat to help him? Demand that the Experimenter help him? What? I asked Milgram that question, he checked his records and memory and answered simply, NOT ONE, NOT EVER, did those heroic subjects leave their seat to help their victim without first being given permission to do so by the Experimenter. The were still unconsciously obeying their elementary school teacher's dictates that students must remain in their seats until they are told they can get up. Obedience runs deep and insidious in our learned behavioral patterns.

[Overhead # : Summary of Conditions involved in this transformation]

So what have we learned from this experimental research, in this highly artificial setting, that might have direct relevance to our basic issue of HOW to transform people into perpetrators of evil? Let me outline the lessons I think we should take to heart as helping us to understand some fundamental processes in making that line between GOOD and Evil more permeable.




















In one sense this obedience research is limited to situations where a powerful authority is in direct control of the behavior of subordinates. In much evil in the world there is no strong leader always present insisting that you must go on to do evil, that would be inefficient. Instead, the leader creates conditions that facilitate evil in his absence.

What are those conditions?

* Take away people's sense of uniqueness and individuality since that encourages spontaneity, rebelliousness and independence.

* Do so by submerging them in groups

* Put them in uniforms

* Disguise them

* Taken together, these actions will Deindividuate them

* Also, reduce their information-processing, cognitive

functioning capacities, by encouraging emotional, physical, high intensity responding, and by altering their state of consciousness through drugs, alcohol, and immersion in present-oriented activities

Can we demonstrate experimentally that making people feel anonymous will facilitate their crossing that LINE over to the EVIL side?

The novelist William Golding suggested that it would happen to good boys in his Nobel Prize-winning novel, Lord of the Flies, after some painted themselves and were then able to kill pigs and other boys with equal indifference.

To go from that imagined reality to behavioral reality, I did a series of experiments on the concept of deindividuation, in which college students' identities were concealed in a small group setting, their names were replaced by numbers, their clothing covered with baggy lab coats, and their faces covered by hoods, or masks. Their task was to shock other subjects who were allegedly in a related experiment on the effects of stress on creativity, they tried to be creative while being stressed by these random shocks the members of the observing group were administering to them. In the first study, I stacked the cards against an easy outcome by having groups of woman be the agents of pain for other women who were their victims. Later studies used males and military personnel, with comparable results.


[Slides 8-12 of De-Individuation research]

Simply put, anonymity facilitated aggressive behavior. College women subjects in the deindividuated condition delivered twice as much shock as did control women who were made to feel individuated while all else was the same for both groups. Their shocking behavior were variations in the duration level on each of 20 trials for each of two victims. What is important in this study compared to Milgram's is that during the shock phase, there was no authority present demanding compliance with the rules. I was behind the one-way mirror the subjects looked through seeing me testing the victims of the stress-creativity study. They had an appropriate "Cover study" which acts as an ideology justifying their unusual behavior, roles to play and rules that gave them permission to hurt another person. And since it was a group setting, any one subject could decide not to shock as long as any of the other three shocked on cue, the stress signal was delivered and the experiment continued, so there was no need to directly confront the authority figure if you wanted out. No subject took that option, they only shocked their victims less.



My colleague Albert Bandura, and his students, continued this line of research by extending the basic paradigm here to study the minimal conditions necessary to create dehumanization. What they manipulated was only the Actors' perception of their victims, no authority pressures, no induced anonymity. A group of college students expected to help train another group of students from a nearby college by collectively shocking them when they erred on the task. Their shock box had 10 levels of intensity that they could deliver on any one of ten trials.

Just as the study was about to begin, the subjects overhead the assistant tell the experimenter one of three phrases:

Neutral: The subjects from the other school are here.

Humanized: The subjects from the other school are here, they seem nice.

Dehumanized: The subjects from the other school are here, they seem like animals.


Mind you, they never saw those other students, or heard anything directly from them, it is only this label that they have to go on in imaging what they are like.


[Slide 13: Bandura Dehumanization data]

On trial one, the manipulation failed to have a differential effect on their aggression, and had the researchers ended the study there, we would conclude that dehumanizing labels have no behavioral impact, but as the study wore on, it had a major impact. The boys who imagined their victims as animals, progressively elevated their shock levels over each trial after the first, significantly more than the Neutral Control. Humanizing labels helped to reduce the aggression significantly below the level of the Neutral Control.

When the subjects were interviewed subsequently about why they behaved as they did, what the researchers found was that the experimental condition enabled them to become "Morally Disengaged" to activate a set of psychological mechanisms that minimized the evil of their deeds, while justifying it in a variety of ways. So a one word label can create a stereotype of the victim, of the enemy, that also lowers the height of that Line between GOOD and EVIL and enables more good people to cross over and become perpetrators.

[Slide 14: Summary Table of Strategies and Tactics to Get Good People to do Evil

This table summarizes some of the strategies and tactics derived from Bandura's research and my own to grease that line and facilitate that transformation. It specifies the conditions required to minimize, or suspend the usual cognitive controls that make us act in pro-social ways, such as conscience, empathy, morality, liability, responsibility, and others.

External Validity

Before I turn to illustrating what my Stanford Prison Experiment tells us about the topic of our concern today, it is incumbent upon me to dispel some of your obvious ruminations about the external validity of these contrived laboratory studies. Do they have real world analogues? Do they help us understand parallels of evil in every day life, or are they merely fascinating and morbid demonstrations of what psychologists can get good people to do under the power of experimental demands?



[Slides 15, 16 Jim Jones and PT suicides]

Here is one apparent parallel to Milgram's demonstration, a powerful authority figure is able to get a large group of people do the truly unimaginable, to kill their own children and parents, and then to commit suicide, of if they resisted doing so, to have their friends kill them. Twenty years ago, U.S. citizens, most from the Bay Area and Los Angeles, members of a religious- socialist cult, Peoples Temple, left San Francisco to set up a Utopian agricultural program in the jungles of Guyana. 913 of them never returned because they blindly obeyed the ultimate authority of their leader and took their lives and the lives of family members and friends.

[or Video from Discovering Psychology of Jim Jones and Peoples Temple]

The real world analogues to my deindividuation research was conducted by a Harvard anthropologist, John Watson, who tested the implications of my deindividuation theory by hypothesizing that nations, societies, that changed their appearance before going to war would be more brutal to their victims, more likely to torture, mutilate, kill their victims than would societies that did not change their appearance.

[Slide 17 . Appearances Can Kill, data of 2 X 2 table]

You can see that the researcher found 23 societies (in the Human Area files) with evidence of whether they did or did not change their appearance before a battle, and how they treated their victims. The results are remarkable clear: 80 percent of those nations that changed their appearance to deindividuate themselves before going to war committed atrocities on the victims. Of 13 nations that killed, tortured and mutilated their victims, 92 percent had previously changed their appearance. So cultural wisdom tells us that one way to nudge good young men and boys across that LINE into their new identity as PERPETRATORS is to first disguise them and give them new masks behind which to hide their evil deeds.


[Slides 18,19# Group of ordinary citizens in the south out on a Saturday night stroll, and the lynching of three Black men]

One aspect of Bandura's dehumanizing principle is seen in the following pair of slides, no disguises, no one insisting that they kill, or even watch the murders of three young men by Lynching, because they are perceived as less than human, as "Niggers," and that dehumanizing stereotype enables the machinery of morality to be disengaged for that time in that place. In a sense lynching and burning alive Black men in the U.S. usually based on fears of their sexual conquest of white women, was a form of genocide that took the lives of untold thousands of these men.



What happens when we aggregate many of these processes that contribute to the making of Perpetrators: dehumanize victims, deindividuate potential perpetrators, put them in a new strange, anonymous environment, and give the perpetrators total power and render the victims powerless? The answer is: the Stanford Prison Experiment which contains further lessons in the transformation of good people into evil perpetrators. Let's review how it bent that LINE to make some very good young men act very bad.

[Video of TV special 60 Minutes, on the Stanford Prison Experiment, 12 min.]

It is especially important to hear how the worst of our guards justified his evil as wanting to see how far he could torment them before they stood up for the dignity, and rebelled against the brutality of the guards. They did not, and thus they deserved what they got. And supposed they did rebel? Would that have pleased him, and then would he say he was glad to see they had spunk and dignity, and so would no longer torment them? I doubt it, they lose no matter what they do. Also consider the God role that he has taken on for himself.

So what have we learned so far about that Line Between GOOD and EVIL? Alexander Solzenitsyn offers an insight into where it can be found.

[OH from Solzhenitsyn]

The line between Good and Evil lies in the center of every human heart... not in some abstract moral, celestial space, but right here in each of our individual and collective beings.


Additional Principles and Processes Required for Institutional Level Collective Violence

When we move up from the lessons of social psychology to the broader stage on which human collective violence occurs throughout the world, more principles and processes are required at a meta level, sociological, historical, and political, which I can not elaborate at this time.

Perversion of Perfection

We also need to recognize that many of the qualities of human nature that account for much of our perfection -- like our sense of self worth, remarkable memory, achievement needs, cognitive capacity for categorizing and simplifying the complexity of our world, affiliative needs, and striving for control, can each be perverted by excess to contribute its portion to the creation and maintenance of Genocide.

Pride, as with the Angel Luficer, goeth before the fall, but until it does, can reek havoc on the world through it insistence on mating with the sense of Superiority and breeding Prejudice. Memory is also the storehouse of revenge for past losses and trespassing, as we see in Kosovo today where the memory of the Turkish conquest on July 23, 1357 is as fresh as it was then in the minds of the Serbs. Affiliation and categorizing ability combine to form tight-knit US families that exclude and refuse to recognize the humanity of THEM, the alien others, that we marginalize. Needs for achievement easily slip into blind ambition and desires for conquest, while the valuable striving for control gets twisted into needs to dominate others in social dominance hierarchies or Fascist, Totalitarian regimes.


Self-Reinforcing Nature of Aggression

I failed to mention that in my Deindividuation research and Bandura's Dehumanization research, that aggression, once it got past initial inhibitions, rapidly escalated and increased over time and trials, as it seemed to become self-reinforcing, violence became its own reward. We do not want to recognize the pleasure many people take in participating in violent acts, whether directly or vicariously, as in spectators at boxing or wrestling matches, The Roman Circuses, men in mass rape, police in riots, and soldiers in massacres. It is not alien to human nature but a shard of its non-reflective surface. For an account of a modern orgy of sustained cruelty I refer you to Iris Change account of the Rape of Nanking in 1937.

[OH- Rape of Nanking quote by Iris Chang, 1997]



[Slide 20 War Images]

We have seen how social psychologists have isolated variables that can contribute to the creation of Perpetrators, but how do Leaders of Nations do it? How do national policies and agencies do it?

[Slides 21, 22: school children and Nazi rally]

How do they transform these idealistic, innocent children into Nazi killers? From those who love into those who hate other people enough to want them all to cease to exist, to exterminate them, to eliminate them and their very memory from the face of the earth forever?

It takes a bit longer than the typical social psychological experiment, but it is nevertheless a social, national experiment in how human nature can be perverted, transformed into something Evil for the ends of dictators, politicians, and businessmen.

Briefly, it involves agents and agencies of Socialization, Propaganda, and Education.

1. Socialization means that parents and adult caretakers shape the values and ideas of the next generation, it is the basic means of civilizing children, of transmitting the lessons of the past to the current generation, of modeling what the culture says is the right way to behave in order to be a good person. But what happens when parents become agents of the State whose agenda includes learning to hate select others, and in doing so provide compelling reasons and examples for their children to believe in and emulate? That is one powerful way for ruling elites to spread their ideals and political agendas across generations to create a youth that will fight and die for their cause, with the support of their parents, as with the Hitler Jungen, or currently in Rwanda and other national conflicts where children are dying for ideals they do not understand, but include Genocide of their "Enemy."

2. Propaganda was promoted by Machiavelli as a means for Princes to control masses and spread fear to opponents and adversaries, but was perfected into an art by Hitler and his team of experts. They knew an important lesson in the conquest of nations and of the minds of their own citizens:

* Create an image of their own might as so invincible that it instilled fear in other nations.

* Create an image of hated members of what they declared were an inferior race, The Jews, that dehumanized them and encouraged their extermination as vermin on German soil.

* Central to Genocide is the psychological and sociological construction of the concept of THE ENEMY, an abstraction into which the propagandist can embed all the fears and loathing of the citizenry, all their primal anxieties about survival and well being.

[Slide 23 cover of Faces of the Enemy by Sam Keen]

Every nation that goes to war must first construct the Face of The Enemy for its soldiers to want to kill and its citizens to want to work and sacrifice to prevent its takeover of their land, home, way of life, woman and children, and even their god.

The last brief video segment I will show, begins with a former Vietnam Vet who killed many Vietcong, and who states the basic proposition about soldiers, their weapon and their enemy. It continues to show how we created images of the Japs in WW11, and how the Nazis created images of Jews as enemies of the state.

[Video segment of Faces of the Enemy]


We saw in Bandura's research the power of a dehumanizing label, now see how labeling neighbors as your Enemy can transform peaceful peasants into Perpetrators of Evil in this recent account of a Rwandan housewife. Juliana Mukankwaya, mother of six children, slaughtered her neighbor's children by beating them to death. Why? Because they had been told by local government officials of the Hutu tribe and soldiers that her neighbors were their Enemies because they were Tutsis. That label alone turned long-time friends into instant adversaries who had to be exterminated, fathers butchered with machetes, mothers raped and killed, children bludgeoned to death. [OH:Associated Press report Rwanda killers express no regret, 5/16/96]

3. Education:

All nations educate children to learn information that the state believes is vital for them to know. What happens when that educational process becomes distorted so that biases and self-serving values prevail and knowledge of the truth is suppressed? It happens to some extent in most countries when they fail to include the history of their atrocities, or defeats in history texts. Beside these omissions, education is compromised when teachers and text writers are subjugated to powerful national forces that instruct them to teach hate and lies and falsehoods to children as if they were merely facts about the Enemies of the State.

This was most apparent in the texts that every German child had to read during the Nazi era, as shown to me by Professor John Steiner. Some texts were designed to teach children how to write and understand Nordic Script by copying stories in them, while others purported to teach geography lessons of people of the world, much as all of us had in our elementary schools, but with one major exception, the treatment of the Jews.

The penmanship texts that children dutifully copied told stories of the inferior, ugly dirty Jew contrasted with the handsome, noble Aryan. The geography texts continued this lesson by showing Jews as insects on the back of the Devil, and in a series of vignettes depicted the horrible Jew in stereotyped scenes, as the lecherous villain, the filthy butcher, the heartless landlord, the thieving doctor, the rich banker, and more.

At the end of the text, the students were greeted with scenes of what were the desired consequences the Germans should do to these terrible people: kick them out your school, and expel them from your country. It was an obviously reasonable solution to the problems the Jews were creating for Germany. And it was then but a further step up on the shock box to press the XXX button labeled THE FINAL SOLUTION.



I want to conclude by having us consider two quotes about the nature of education since that is our business in the University.

It is imperative that we each make a personal commitment never again to allow Education to be perverted into a tool for prejudice, an instrument for demeaning human nature, or an intellectual weapon for justifying the Evils of inhumane treatment of our brothers and sisters of any race, religion, ethnicity, or political persuasion. Education must be our salvation, not our damnation.

[OH, quote from Ginott about the educated people who contributed to the Holocaust and from Ovid about education humanizes character and not allowing it to be mean.]

Post Script

That was my intended conclusion to my presentation, but I must add a postscript that brings my message up to date, and keeps it from not getting lost in the distant realm of Nazi Germany in another time and place.

The time is now, the place is here, the potential Enemy is US, our potential Evil Perpetrator is a very rich, very influential, educated man who will be running for the U. S. Congress this year.

DAVID DUKE is that man, and he has the power to mobilize forces of ignorance, prejudice, and fear of many people in our country on the political right and hate groups internationally. He has just published a book that lays out his plan for an Aryan revolution by good Christian men " to preserve the Aryan way of life in a country he says is already filled with genetically less intelligent, crime-prone black people and supremacist Jews who control both Hollywood and the news media."(SF Examiner, 3/7/99, p. A-10). His book focuses on four categories of enemies: black people, homosexuals, women, and most prominently Jews, whom he holds responsible for starting an "ethnic war." [OH: section of news report on David Duke]

I end on this rather frightening note to make you students aware that we are not dealing with ancient history, with abstract psychological principles, or stories about bad things done to other people in other times. The threat of Genocide is ever present, it is carried in the minds and influential power of untold numbers of people like David Duke in the United States and countries around the globe. With cyberspace networks they can reach millions with their messages of hate on their web pages and so extend the domain of their evil intentions in ways we are only beginning to understand.

We must not make them our Enemies in the abstract, but monitor their ideas and actions in the concrete, and do all in our power to oppose their distorted values by promoting human understanding, compassion, and commitments that foster peace at home and abroad.

Recall the UNESCO Charter declares:


Thus, the first step in preventing Genocide begins by promoting peace, love, and understanding in Your Minds and in mine. It is our first line of defense against Evil, and it is the source of strength we all need to resist the ever- present, pervasive, powerful forces in the world that would lure us across that Seductive Line to descend into the realm of the next generation of evil perpetrators.

So go in peace, Shalom.


Philip G. Zimbardo

Professor of Psychology

Stanford University

Stanford, CA 94305

Secretary: Jackie Wagner, jackie@psych.stanford.edu