APA President Philip G. Zimbardo, PhD, gave a talk on "Evil in the world and terror in our nation: transforming vulnerabilities into resilience" at the Louisiana State University (LSU) Health Sciences Center in New Orleans on Feb. 4. As part of the Barbara Lemann Memorial Symposium on Emerging Trends in Mental Health, the lecture focused on the psychology of evil--specifically how individuals can be persuaded to commit malevolent acts.
Drawing on information from the Inquisition and the Holocaust, Zimbardo explained that situational circumstances contribute to evil behaviors and cited his own Stanford Prison Experiment as evidence. He also discussed other factors, including social expectations, deindividuation, aggression and criminal behavior, and how propaganda and mind control shape cultural beliefs.
The symposium addressed the impact evil has on victims, from anguish, stress and mood-related symptoms to panic about the possibility of future terrorist acts. The talk also emphasized the nation's response of patriotism, cohesion and self-reflection after Sept. 11 and suggested ways to increase resilience.
The two hour slide-show presentation culminated with a question-and-answer period whose panel members included Cheryll Bowers Stephens, MD, Louisiana Office of Mental Health; Howard Osofsky, MD, Head Psychiatry Department Lousiana Medical School; Joy Osofsky, PhD, professor of public health and psychiatry, LSU Health Sciences Center; Cecil Picard, Louisiana State Secretary of Education; and Alesia Williams, PhD, LSU School of Psychology Training Program.