February 28, 2007
A half-century after Philip Zimbardo nervously prepared to deliver his first lecture to a group of Yale University students, the psychology professor emeritusa Stanford institution for four decadesreturns to campus March 7 to perform his final, official university duty as a guest lecturer in the course Introductory Psychology. Zimbardo will discuss the psychology of evil, the subject of his new book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, which is scheduled to be released in March. The lecture will be held from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. in Room 040 in Jordan Hall.
Back in 1957, Zimbardo became the first psychology graduate student at Yale to be allowed to teach his own introductory psychology course. "Somehow, 50 years has gone by teaching that course, from small seminars to large lectures with 1,000 students, and it has always been a joy and a challenge to make it work better for each new generation of students," Zimbardo wrote in an e-mail message. "I have been able to keep up my scholarship in this ever-changing discipline by writing the textbook for the course, Psychology and Life, now in its 18th edition." In 1968, Zimbardo joined the Stanford faculty after teaching at Yale and New York University.
A past president of the American Psychology Association, Zimbardo is probably best known for his controversial 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which college students assumed the roles of prison guards and prisoners. The two-week experiment had to be canceled after only six days because the guards became sadistic and the prisoners became depressed and severely stressed. Decades later, Zimbardo applied this social psychological analysis to address the abuses committed by American soldiers in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Zimbardo focused on the situational influences that seduce good people into behaving in ways that are alien to their traditional morality. He later testified as an expert witness in the court martial of Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, the highest-ranking officer implicated in the scandal. Zimbardo argued that Frederick's sentence should be lessened because the Stanford experiment had shown that few people can resist the situational pressures that can exist in a prison. Despite Zimbardo's testimony, Frederick received a maximum eight-year sentence for abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees.
Zimbardo retired from Stanford in 2003 but has continued to develop new courses, such as Exploring Human Nature, and to head the senior honors seminar.
"I shall miss my daily contacts with my students and the many dedicated teaching assistants, but will work at staying young [at] heart by challenging injustice and inequity wherever it exists," he said.
Next month, Zimbardo will begin touring to promote The Lucifer Effect. He plans to continue teaching graduate courses at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
Reporters are welcome to cover this event. Please contact Lisa Trei at Stanford News Service in advance.