I’ve just finished reading the disturbing new book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. The thesis is based upon the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, carried out by the author, Philip Zimbardo and several colleagues. The gist of the book is clearly explained in the title. The Lucifrer Effect can be seen in any number of atrocities, including Abu Ghraib (which is shockingly similar to the Stanford observations), and stepping up many notches from that, the Rwanda massacre and Nazi and Communist pogroms. Below is some footage of that study (there are some other similar videos at Youtube). Reading this book will make you think twice before blurting out, The devil made me do it.
If you think there is a clear demarcation between good VS evil you may be suffering from severe delusional tendencies and should seek help immediately.
You might also want to read about a similar, though even more chilling study , called Obedience to Authority, an early sixties study on human nature (conscience VS cruel authority) done by Stanley Milgram. Here’s a recent video log of that experiment, following the original Milgram parameters::
Update: You might interested in this NY Times article on the enduring significance of Milgrim’s work: Decades Later, Still Asking: Would I Pull that Switch?
Another interesting study, similar to The Standford Prison Experiment, was conducted by an American HS teacher over a five day period. His experiment: to see if could turn his class of normal humane kids into a kind of Hitler Youth Party machine. He succeeded. This experiment, dubbed The Wave, is mentioned in The Lucifer Effect, and is available on Youtube in a fictionalized but accurate version. Believe it or not there’s also another study, which is also mentioned in The Lucifer Effect; this one is called the Blue eyes VS Brown eyes experiment. The crux of it is this. A teacher divided her nice third grade class into a dichotomy: first blue-eyed kids were told they were more intelligent, superior to kids with brown eyes. The blue-eyed kids soon became dominant, superior in attitude and excelled in their work, while the Brown-eyed kids became angry, sullen and acted inferior. Then, the next day, the teacher explained she had made a mistake and that new research indicated that brown-eyed kids were superior. Their attitude then dramatically shifted. They then became domianat and acted better than the once dominant blue-eyed kids.