TED 2008: How Good People Turn Evil, From Stanford to Abu Ghraib

By Kim Zetter

As an expert witness in the defense of an Abu Ghraib guard, Philip Zimbardo had access to many images (NSFW) of abuse taken by the guards themselves. Some of these images have never been published before. For his TED presentation he put together a short video of some of the pictures. The sound effects in the video were added by Zimbardo. Many of the images are explicit and gruesome, depicting nudity, degradation, simulated sex acts and guards posing with corpses. Viewer discretion is advised.
Courtesy Philip Zimbardo
Monterey, California — Psychologist Philip Zimbardo has seen good people turn evil, and he thinks he knows why.

Zimbardo will speak Thursday afternoon at the TED conference, where he plans to illustrate his points by showing a three-minute video, obtained by Wired.com, that features many previously unseen photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (disturbing content).

Salon.com published 279 photos and 19 videos from Abu Ghraib in March 2006, one of the most extensive documentations to date of abuse in the notorious prison. Zimbardo claims, however, that many images in his video — which he obtained while serving as an expert witness for an Abu Ghraib defendant — have never before been published.

Zimbardo conducted a now-famous experiment at Stanford University in 1971, involving students who posed as prisoners and guards. Five days into the experiment, Zimbardo halted the study when the student guards began abusing the prisoners, forcing them to strip naked and simulate sex acts.

His book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, explores how a “perfect storm” of conditions can make ordinary people commit horrendous acts.

He spoke with Wired.com about what Abu Ghraib and his prison study can teach us about evil and why heroes are, by nature, social deviants.