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Analysis of Philip Zimbardo’s 'The Psychology of Evil': Milgram Experiment

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For centuries, people have always wondered where evil comes from. Although humans think that there is a fine line between good and evil that is simply not the case. Humans actually have the capacity to be both good and evil. The real question is why evil continues to foster and affect good people in committing heinous acts. According to Philip Zimbardo, there are several reasons why people commit evil. First, evil is needed in order to balance out the good in humanity. Second, people who are put in the right environment, attire, and situation are likely to conform to the power of institutions. Lastly evil prospers because humanity is easily blinded by charismatic leaders thus leading to their own destruction.

According to Zimbardo, the world was and will always be filled with good and evil. Zimbardo’s idea of good and evil came to him from the illusion of a Dutch artist, M.C. Escher. When people focus on Escher’s image, the white is seen as an angel and on the black part, there is a symbol of evil. This piece of work by Escher provides insight that the belief that good cannot exist without evil. Incorporating the idea of good and evil towards the concept of yin and yang people will easily understand the human condition. The concept of yin and yang introduces us that for every good there is evil and for every bad there is good. Simply put, if we destroy one of these, it is equivalent to removing the whole system. Good and evil are parallel to the yin and yang where both ideas complement and work together to fulfill each other and keep the balance of the universe. Following the reason for evil, Zimbardo pointed out that in one of the stories in the bible, Lucifer, who was originally one of God’s favorite angels was condemned and put into hell for disobeying God’s authority which is a serious act of disobedience. This sets an example for understanding the human minds into why ordinary people were in the first place and has become a tool for evil. In Zimbardo’s study of the Stanford prison experiment, people were randomly assigned as either prisoners or guards who took the social role of conforming to their fake characters. The result of the experiment is that because of the controlled environment, played a factor in creating the guards’ inhumane behavior because at the beginning none of the participants showed any sadistic behavior whatsoever. Therefore, the findings support the situational explanation of behavior affects human actions rather than the personal temperament of an individual. The power is in the system it follows the idea of how the system corrupts good people into conforming to evil acts. The final reason for committing evil is obedience to authority. Zimbardo’s example of the Milgram experiment where summarizes the willingness of a participant to electric shock another participant on a leader’s instructions. Results show that among the 16 studies, Americans were likely to go all the way up to 450 volts on a scale of 66.67% to 90% of the gathered participants. This demonstrates the unconscious behavior of all genders, different levels of knowledge, and ages to obey and conform even against their own will in the presence of a higher figure. Another example of obeying authority is the mass suicide in the Jonestown agricultural commune in Guyana. Jim Jones was responsible for over 912 deaths said to have an undeniable charm and charisma giving the reason for many followers not to deny his every command. In accordance with committing evil and following the Milgram experiment and Jonestown suicide, this can be linked to why people are perpetrators of evil. People are both controlled and are afraid to act out in the face of authority thus they are forced to commit evil such as murder, stealing, rape, and other heinous acts blindly.

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Throughout the argument, Zimbardo’s examples had a few problems such as linking his ideas to the biblical story of Lucifer and in pursuit of controversial examples that people tend to avoid like his experiment of the Stanford Prison, Milgram experiment, and Jim Jones’ mass suicide. In regards to the biblical story of Lucifer being condemned to hell, most people will not be able to accept that idea since first, not everybody is not of the same religion thus people do not follow other religious words lightly second, the words of the bible tend to be contradictory. Verses found in the words of Luke 10:12, “And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven”. The verse shows how it is contradictory of the word “forgive” is being granted and denied at the same time seems ridiculous to follow. Lastly, the bible can be considered as not everyone’s book considering not everybody is of the same religion and its words tend to contradict what it says. Zimbardo’s examples on the other hand are hard for most people to take note of since it is a very controversial topic. Both the Stanford Prison and Milgram experiments sought a rewarding outcome but had to face ethical issues because they brought negative impacts on the participants physically, psychologically, and emotionally.

Even with the problems given in Zimbardo’s argument, I still find his lecture to be convincing. In conclusion, we cannot hide the fact that it is evil in the world. His examples may be controversial but I believe it is key to understanding the evil in the world. In order to avoid or lessen evil we need to look further as to why this continues to grow and through his lecture, Zimbardo did break down the psychological reasons for evil. Reasons such as evil and good complement one another for universal stability, people are blinded to following an authoritative figure and lastly conforming to the power of institutions. The wonderful message is we can still confront evil through the act of heroism according to Zimbardo. That is through promoting heroic and positive imaginations in the educational system in order for people and younger generations to have a good sense of the background. Creating heroism as a norm for people creates an opportunity for people to act out on passive situations and achieve a place for everybody, not only for the good but where evil could not foster.


  1. Art Icons. (n.d.). M.C. Escher. Retrieved from
  2. Goad, J. (2014, May 15). 30 Pairs Of Bible Verses That Contradict One Another. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from
  3. Medium. (2018, December 10). Why Yin Yang is one of the most important designs in the world. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from
  4. Zimbardo, P. (2008, February). The psychology of evil. Retrieved from

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Analysis of Philip Zimbardo’s ‘The Psychology of Evil’: Milgram Experiment. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 3, 2023, from
“Analysis of Philip Zimbardo’s ‘The Psychology of Evil’: Milgram Experiment.” Edubirdie, 21 Apr. 2023,
Analysis of Philip Zimbardo’s ‘The Psychology of Evil’: Milgram Experiment. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 Oct. 2023].
Analysis of Philip Zimbardo’s ‘The Psychology of Evil’: Milgram Experiment [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Apr 21 [cited 2023 Oct 3]. Available from:
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