Book Review: The Lucifer Effect How Good People Turn Evil.

The Lucifer Effect, a New York Best Selling book written by research psychologist Professor Philip Zimbardo  highlights an uncomfortable but honest observation regarding human nature: That even the most seemingly ordinary, up-right and good person can become a perpetrator of evil. When we're trying to understand behavior that is destructive, irrational and malicious we often direct our focus primarily onto innate characteristics or personality traits which would have lead to such behavior, while ignoring any circumstantial factors which would have shaped such behaviors. Similar to the Fundamental Attribution Error which you can read more about here.

What Zimbardo hypothesized is that it is possible for external situations and systems to become key influences of  change in behavior and that they can often override a persons morals and values and be a corruptive force in extreme circumstances. The analogy of Lucifer within this book was that he was God’s favorite angel, but due to Lucifers fall from grace when he challenged God’s omnipotent authority, Lucifer was transformed into the forever recognized symbol of evil, Satan. This is the idea of people turning from good to evil.



In The Lucifer Effect, the Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 is the ideal starting point for Zimbardo as he recalls from first person accounts on how the events of the experiment unfolded. He describes how he and the other researchers set up a simulated prison in the basement of one of Stanford University's academic buildings and then selected 24 students to participate and play the roles of both prisoners and guards. The students he said were chosen from a larger group of 70 volunteers and were chosen specifically because they had no criminal background, had no psychological issues or medical conditions. The student volunteers agreed to participate during a one to two-week period in exchange for $15 a day.

Lasting only a premature six days due to the experiment having to be stopped early Zimbardo describes in gripping detail how the students began to sink deeper and deeper into their roles and how they as guards became abusive, and the prisoners begin to show more signs of extreme stress and anxiety as their time in the experiment went on. While the prisoners and guards were free to interact in any way they pleased, the interactions became hostile and malicious. The guards began to behave in ways that were aggressive and abusive toward the prisoners while the prisoners became passive, depressed and show signs of anxiety.


He writes that even the researchers themselves began to lose grip of the situation and lose sight of their objective whilst potentially leaving the students open to psychological damage. Zimbardo, who acted as the prison warden, repetitively overlooked the hostile behavior of the jail guards until graduate student Christina Maslach voiced her concerns as to the conditions in the simulated prison and the morality of continuing the experiment. Zimbardo aptly draws out every bit of emotion and drama involved in the experiment in 1971, which keeps the  reader in awe every step of the way. The Lucifer Effect is brilliantly written, intriguing, and keeps you emotionally engaged throughout reading it. In reference to the end of the experiment Zimbardo beautifully quotes in his book "Only a few people were able to resist the situational temptations to yield to power and dominance while maintaining some semblance of morality and decency; obviously, I was not among that noble class,"

The book doesn't stop there.

In the remainder of The Lucifer Effect, Zimbardo goes to show how important the concept of the Stanford Prison Experiment is and extrapolates that to some of the more horrifying real world events in recent times, such as the abuse at the hands of agents of the US at Abu Ghraib, the genocide in Rwanda and the rape of Nanking. He discusses how the insidious and corrosive effect of power often leads to the creation of a corrupt system corrupting the people involved.

The prison study of Abu Ghraib in Iraq is used as an example. Zimbardo became thoroughly involved in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib when he was asked to be an expert witness for Sergeant Ivan Frederick, one of the accused who inevitably stood trial for alleged prisoner abuses. Through his research into what transpired at the Abu Ghraib prison, Zimbardo was able to gain insight into what it was like for the soldiers who spent long weeks working shifts within a military prison, and although the accused was eventually sentenced to eight years hard time in another military prison, Zimbardo was able to document the failures in leadership that led to many of the abuses and states that the military system itself was the leading proponent and should be to blame for the conditions in which such atrocities could take place.

In conclusion, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Much of the book has much of a darker sombre feel to it compared to other books due to the descriptions of how ordinary good people can perform evil acts. The final chapters of The Lucifer Effect offers us a lighter tone reminding us that some people are able to resist situational influence and can have an unbending resolve against peer pressure and systemic evil. Zimbardo gives examples of such unique individuals which include Christina Maslach, the graduate student who spoke up to Zimbardo to end the Stanford Prison Experiment, and Private Joe Darby, the soldier who blew the whistle on the atrocities that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison.


If you want to learn more about The Lucifer Effect and read other book reviews about it...



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Our sleep cycle and the different stages of sleep.

The study of human behavior


So what happens to we're asleep? Despite the fact that we spend a good portion of our lives fast asleep (around a third), most of us aren’t really aware of the fact that we experience different stages of sleep and different times of the night. Sleep is a vastly complicated science, and a typical night of sleep consists of just five sleep stages. Though sleep can also be divided into two broader stages, non-rapid eye movement (NREM), and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. 

The vast majority of our sleep (around 75 to 80 per cent) is NREM; during NREM sleep, dreams tend to be more abstract and quite vague, whereas during REM sleep dreams are more detailed and emotionally charged. During a nights sleep, every 90 to 110 minutes you cycle through five different stages of sleep, often experiencing anything between three to five dreams each night. 





Stage One: Within a few minutes of falling asleep your breathing gradually becomes more steady and the heart rate begins to slow down. Your brain produces what are called alpha and theta waves (alpha waves are involved in relaxing you while theta waves are involved in your emotional experience) and your eye movements slow down. This stage of sleep is fairly brief, lasting up to seven minutes. This is where you are in light sleep stage, meaning that you’re somewhat conscious and can be woken easily. 

Stage Two: During this stage your muscle activity decreases further and your awareness of the outside world begins to fade away. As a sleeper you would not likely be conscious enough to notice any outside stimuli. During this stage, which is still also fairly light, the brain produces sudden increases in brain wave frequency known as sleep spindles (sleep spindles are bursts of brain activity visible on an EEG monitor). Shortly after your brain waves begin to slow down.

Stage Three: Deep, slow brain waves known as Delta Waves begin to emerge during this stage (Delta waves are associated with relaxation and healing). This stage transitions you from a light sleep to a deep sleep.

Stage Four: This is a deep sleep that lasts for roughly 30 minutes producing more delta waves. Your body begins to perform restorative functions such as tissue and muscle growth, energy restoration and memory consolidation where your brain files away any new information.

Stage Five: Most dreaming occurs during this stage known as REM. REM sleep is defined by the eye movement, increased respiration rate and an in increase brain activity. REM sleep is also referred to as paradoxical sleep because, while the brain and other systems in your become more active, your muscles become more relaxed to the point of paralysis. Dreaming occurs due to an increase in brain activity, though your voluntary muscles become paralyzed. Voluntary muscles are the muscles you can consciously move such as moving your arms and legs or tensing your abdominals. Involuntary muscles are the muscles you do not have conscious control over such as your heart or your inner gut. Muscle paralysis during this stage of sleep is a function to prevent you acting out your dreams whilst you're sleeping.



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10 Quick And Interesting Facts About Body Language

As you may know body language is more complex than it seems at first glance. This is because reading body language has so many nuances and subtleties you have to account for such as context, culture, mood, level of comfort, baseline behavior etc. The list can go on. For example a country and its culture can have a wide range of facial expressions, body movements, and hand gestures that can signal particular emotions and feelings but go from one country to another and those same gestures and expressions can get lost in translation.

Take a look at these 10 quick and interesting facts about body language and see if you learn something new. Because body language is often nuanced and subtle with wide variations of expression you'll always learn something new. There are also experts who professionally study and research in reading body language, and even they can’t always read and interpret body language correctly. It just goes to show how complex human beings can be! We hope you enjoy this list of interesting body language facts.



The psychology of body languiage



1. Amazingly woman have a wider range of peripheral vision which allows her to look at a man’s body from head to toe without even getting noticed. A male’s peripheral vision on the other hand is not as good. This is why a man would typically move his gaze up and down a woman’s body which is very obvious and can wind up with the man getting caught.

2. Britain, similar to a lot of Northern Europe and the Far East, is labelled as a “non-contact” culture where there is little physical contact in their daily interactions. The Middle East, Latin America, and Southern Europe are considered “high contact cultures” where physical touch is a part of everyday socializing.

3. Covering the eyes or "eye blocking" such as prolonged blinking, lowering the eyes for a longer than usual period are all powerful signals that portray confusion, disbelief or disagreement.

4. Custom officers often notice that passengers who point their feet toward the exit while talking to the officer to make their custom’s declaration are more likely to be hiding something they should have declared in the first place.


5. Research shows that whatever we’re feeling first shows up in our body before entering our conscious minds microseconds later.





6. Kissing and romantic touch releases Oxytocin in the brain. It is a hormone that strengthens the emotional bond between the two people.

7. Similar to how a dog will expose its throat to show submission or surrender, humans use their palms to show that they are harmless and not threatening.

8. It has been noted that in stores thieves will try to hide their physical presence by restricting their motions by hindering their head exposure by raising the shoulders and at times lowering the head. Otherwise most people walk around the store with their arms quite free and active and their posture upright.

9. Squinting is a motion that can be very brief, just fraction of a second, but it can often signal negative thoughts or emotions. We tend to squint when we are angry or when we hear sounds, or music or even voices we don’t like.

10. Even when a person is standing still, a person’s body is always telling a story.




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The Pygmalion Effect - The Psychology of Having High Expectations

First named by the psychologist Robert Rosenthal; The Pygmalion Effect is where the someone who is in a position of leadership has expectations of someone to perform a task well and can encourage them to actually meet those high expectations and display higher levels of performance compared to if there wasn't any expectations at all. Conceptually it is similar to having Confirmation Bias where expected behaviors are shaped creating an expected outcome.

The study of human behaviorAn example of the The Pygmalion Effect is in an office setting where Supervisor A is considerably favorable to one of his office workers and has high expectations him to do well in any task that is given to him. This office worker in response thrives under his supervisors leadership and does his utmost to live up to his high expectations. It motivated him to work harder and to do his best. 

Then then another supervisor comes along, Supervisor B. Things changed when Supervisor B replaced Supervisor A. Supervisor B did not think so highly of this favorable office worker. In fact, it would be safe to say he didn't think very highly of him whatsoever. Eventually Supervisor B's low expectations became a reality. The office worker made mistakes and didn't seem to have the same pride in his work he did when Supervisor A was in charge, his mind went blank whenever he was asked questions, his confidence evaporated along with his motivation. His performance suffered in Supervisor B's presence.

What seemed to have happened was the office workers good performance was encouraged by Supervisor A's high expectations and because he worked well Supervisor A would praise him on his good work which would spur this office worker to keep perform well again. And this would cycle over again and again. The opposite would happen with Supervisor B would have little to no expectations of the office workers performance causing him to behave accordingly, having a similar cycle.




Psychologist Robert Rosenthal performed a study which proved that if teachers were led to expect a higher level of performance from students, then these students performance would improve accordingly.

 A selection of students in a California school in the 1960s were given a disguised IQ test. The teachers were told at the start of the study that some of their students could be expected to be "intellectual bloomers" that year, performing better than expected compared to the other classmates. The bloomers' names were revealed only to the teachers. At the end of the study, all students were again tested with the same IQ-test used at the start of the study. 

True enough the experimental group the "intellectual bloomers" performed higher than the other students keeping in mind that they were chosen at random. The conclusion of the study was that the teachers may have without realizing that they had given the supposed academic bloomers more personal interactions, more positive feedback, approval, and other positive gestures, such as nods and smiling as a result of having higher expectations. On the other hand, teachers would may have paid less attention to low-expectancy students, seat them farther away from teachers in the classroom, and offer less reading and learning contributing to a poorer learning experience. 

The power of the Pygmalion effect, can be used for better or for worse in the classroom, in the workplace, in the military, and elsewhere.


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