I believe my most important contribution to the field of psychology is the findings from the Stanford Prison Experiment. The goal was to focus on how ordinary people can deindividualize, dehumanize, and vandalize generally due to group identity, situational validation of behavior, and power of roles. In this experiment, 40 male college students were randomly assigned the role of a prisoner or a guard. I was playing the role of a prisoner superintendent. The students and I adapted to her role quickly. My girlfriend, Christina Maslach, had made me realize that. Despite the negative psychological and physiological situations that took place during this experiment, I could make conclusions from it. Results indicate that guards and prisoners developed role-appropriate attitudes. As soon as someone assumes a role, he or she changes his or her attitude immensely. There were some who did not succumb to the system. My later research focuses on “heroes.” Overall, it showed how the needs of the situation and behavior of the subjects outweighed the subjects’ judgments, morals, and beliefs. The Lucifer effect describes this transformation. It also sends out a message that the person, system, and situation affects the individual’s conduct. People can become evil when they dehumanize others, mindlessly take the first step, obey the authority, anonymity, social loafing, follow the group norms, and tolerate evil.
This experiment effectively illustrates the transformation of good healthy people to evil and sick people due to situational factors. The information is described in many psychology books, lectures, and media renditions. Over 15 million people visit my website about this experiment. My experiment is used as a reference in numerous court cases pertaining to prisoners and instructions to prevent prisoner abuse. A practical application of the experiment is the Abu Ghraib prison incident that took place after the 2003 Iraq War. It could explain the behavior of the guards that led to the inhumane treatment of the prisoners. This experiment can also explain the actions of the suicide bombers of 9/11.
After that experiment, I focused on the transformation of ordinary people to heroes instead of the transformation of good people to evil people. I founded the Heroic Imagination Project. My previous research and the lessons I learned were taught to the members of this project. Members around the world gain knowledge about social resilience, analysis of the situation, decision-making process using morals, and their belief in their ability to succeed. This will make the members do heroic actions. They will be able to effectively respond to any situation.
John Boyd and I co-authored a book The Time Paradox. Time is a powerful influence on people’s lives, yet people do not give it importance. The attitudes toward time perspectives are mastered through experiences. The relationship with time can affect people’s happiness level. People can be future-oriented, hedonistic, or nostalgic. This can affect the major decisions made. The relationship of humans with time perspective can be beneficial at a certain level. Once it crosses that level, it can cause problems in people’s life. This book will help many readers learn about their “time zone.” In turn, this knowledge can be used to make human lives better.
I founded a Shyness Clinic at Stanford. I reflected on the dualities, which was seen in the Guard’s restriction of freedom and the prisoner resisting it at first. These are characteristics of shy people. This led my research team to research in detail the shyness in people – its correlation and causes. This resulted in a treatment and research center, where many effective interventions were tested. This shyness clinic is relocated to the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, where people can treat the negative effects of shyness and learn more about shyness.