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The paper gives information and critics Philip Zimbardo's book 'The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil', and how ideas and ideologies are given in the book. The book gives an overview of how good people turn evil trying to explain the causes and effects of the change. It combines ideas from various neuroscientists and researchers on the topic to evaluate human beings and their behaviors. This paper gives an overview of the main points discussed and a critic to some of the highlighted information in the book.

Keywords: neuroscientists, evil, personality

Understanding and Explanation on How Good People Turn Evil

The author argues that there is a certain framework that makes initially good people turns evil. Some of the changes can be triggered by biological reasons while some can be obtained from the society and social interaction. Human aggression is analyzed and its causes explained in four main groups which are: the physical aggression, hostility, quick anger, and the verbal aggression. Hostility is defined as the stubborn behavior from an individual to not accept the surrounding and the reality of his/her current state. Anger involves a rise in emotions and triggers physical aggression. It is also a main cause of verbal aggression and so it largely determines one's personality and behavior. It is not only internal as it can be displayed in form of facial expressions and an individuals' body language. Anger and aggression mostly lead to a plot to harm other people, or to try and get a pay back on individuals causing it ( Zimbardo, 2007).

The front lobe in a human head is scientifically believed to cause aggression in humans, and it can be used to change an individual's behavior. The study was done on a victim of an accident who had a metallic object alter his lobe which led to a major change in his character. Various methods in neuro imaging have found a connection between aggression and the functioning of the frontal. It was discovered that low prefrontal activity can lead to an individual being aggressive, which is a part of the prefrontal cortex. Frontal lobes cause aggression if their activation is decreased from the usual proportions.

There also exists another theory to explain aggression which is the Somatic theory. It is based on the structure of the brain stem and its connection to the functioning of the ventromedial prefrontal context. According to the theory, emotions are a reflection of variations in visceral state, and how they interact with the cognitive processes. The variations are a reaction by the body to various events happening in the environment. The body reacts to the environment and tries its best to survive the situation affecting it. Often the situations involved leads to homeostasis, and also affects how an individual interacts. It causes deindividuation and dehumanization which leads to preferential treatment of human beings without a specified reason.

In the researches, deindividuation and dehumanization have been cited as major causes of human evil. They are used to explain the violent behaviors especially in rowdy groups of people who are uncontrollable despite efforts from the society. The theory has also had facts that have been used to explain malpractices in the computer and communications technology. Deindividuation is defined as the process of people treating others unanimously no matter their relationship and not as individuals. It also defines how people try to hide their identity behind artificial identities to avoid certain recognition in the society. It is also used as a way to escape responsibility and accountability in an individual. Deindividuation has been viewed as a cause of aggression in the society and other common anti-social behaviors. Aspects that create anonymity contribute to possibilities of anti social behaviors as the individuals are in no fear of getting punishment for their actions. It can be caused by several reasons that include: drug and substance abuse, sensory overload, and getting into situations that are not planned for. Anonymity plays a major role in antisocial behavior as punishment for the act cannot be administered without clear identification of the proprietor.

Dehumanization happens when an individual views others in a lower profile than himself, and does not give the expected respect. They ignore the human rights and the rights as a citizen and individuals judge others according to their own perception and not what is supposed to be correct. This is a major cause of human evil as people view others as less human, and treats them with disrespect. People considered as outcasts or out-groups are most vulnerable to be attacked and fall victims of dehumanization.

The ideas from neuro studies can be used to evaluate and discover the cause and remedies for human evil. The ideas involved a lot of research and study which are important in studying human behavior and how good people turn evil. The studies have led to discovery of information, which can be used in evaluation of human beings in the society. It can also be used to correct behavior in people who are evil doers. Study of deindividuation and dehumanization can also lead discovery of other hypothesis in future that may be used to evaluate human behavior.

However, the article also has its flaws in making the analysis and conclusions especially since the book mostly relied on neuro study. It depends on the humanizer and the individual being dehumanized to determine who is evil and who is good in any situation. Hence the underlying neuro mechanism does not really determine the perception and actions that an individual takes. The person conducting inhuman acts could as well be the dehumanized even with the same neuro structure and suffer similar consequences. Lack of accountability is not also necessarily determined by the neurons as an unaccountable person can also be very accountable if under pressure or strict rules. The brain functionality is also different in individuals as some people have brain damage and generalization may not be appropriate. The author concentrates more on the scientific and complex side of explaining how good people turn evil, and is not understandable to a common reader.

As stated in the book, the brain is responsible for acts of good and evil but its actually up to an individual to have positive thoughts which translate to positive actions. People who act in a violent manner can also have reasons that trigger them to act in that manner, and the mistake might be in another individual. This involves all aggressions whether verbal or physical. Constant suffering or exposure to problems like poverty can also turn a good person to an evil doer. It may not really be by his/her will but the situation affecting them pushes them to commit the evils they do. Some people commit evils for a good cause like the prostitutes who sell their bodies so as to feed their children. People sometimes engage in evil activities with a main goal of helping others or to positively improve their lives. However, some people turn evil for malicious reasons and with no good cause. Advice and information on the dangers of being evil can help evil people transform. The world needs good people to enable us live peacefully together in the society without conflicts.


Zimbardo, P. (2007). The Lucifer effect: Understanding how good people turn evil. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.