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A Situationist Perspective on The Psychology of Evil

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In the research paper “A Situationist Perspective on the Psychology of Evil: Understanding How Good People Are Transformed into Perpetrators” by Philip G. Zimbardo, Stanford University, Ph. D, he explores why people become evil situationally and psychologically. In his research, Zimbardo defines evil as “Intentionally behaving — or causing others to act — in ways that demean, dehumanize, hard, destroy, or kill innocent people” (3). In the novel Lord of the Flies by William Golding, one character fits Zimbardo’s definition particularly well: Jack. Zimbardo’s research describes many social aspects and psychological factors that cause evil, which can be easily applied to Jack and his transition to evil. However, the factor that stands out the most when applied to Lord of the Flies is the other stranded boys’ effect on Jack’s evil attitude. Applying the factors mentioned by Zimbardo to Lord of the Flies, the social environment created by the other boys stranded on the island with Jack drove him to become evil.

Firstly, in chapter one of Lord of the Flies, one of the most monumental moments of the chapter was when the boys find a pig trapped in the undergrowth, ironically right after Jack describes his desire to capture and kill a pig. The boys surround the pig, and Jack prepares to kill it. Surprisingly, right before Jack stabs the pig with his knife, he hesitates just long enough for the pig to escape. The boys do not know the implications of killing, and thus they hesitated. The hesitation especially embarrasses Jack, being described by the narrator as, “The pause was only long enough for [the boys] to understand what an enormity the downward stroke would be … Jack’s face was white under the freckles” (Golding 31). Jack’s hesitation and embarrassment are incredibly significant because it demonstrates he is aware of his situation: he and he alone failed to kill the pig. However, this event differs from how Jack hunts in a group; Jack is one of the many hunters, which protects his individuality. This is demonstrated in the book with Jack’s willingness to kill pigs (and later even other boys) when he is around his hunters. This event perfectly aligns with the behaviors described in an experiment led by Zimbardo. The basic procedure of said experiment is described as having college-age women apply painful shocks to two other women. However, half of the college-age women were randomly given anonymity, and the other half were left individualized. The results were quite interesting, Zimbardo describing “The results were clear: Women in the deindividualized condition delivered twice as much stock to both victims as did the women in the individuated comparison condition” (Zimbardo 7). Jack’s behavior perfectly models the result of this experiment, implying Zimbardo’s principles of individuality and violence ground Jack’s behaviors in human principles. For example, during Ralph’s speech, Jack and Ralph fight over the conch in a brief struggle. However, when Ralph gives piggy the right to speak, Jack grudgingly obliges. Because Jack doesn’t have his hunters’ support, he doesn’t act aggressively. Due to Jack requiring other boys to be around him in order to be evil, it’s implied that the social environment created by the other boys, particularly the hunters in this case, slowly pushed Jack to become evil.

Secondly, Starting in the third chapter of Lord of the Flies, Jack separates his group of pig hunters from the rest of Ralph’s tribe by giving them the title “hunters.” Jack continues to maintain this title for his group throughout the book, even eventually describing his tribe as a tribe of hunters. According to a study referenced by Zimbardo, college students were given the option to shock other subjects with the label of either “nice” or as “animals.” It turns out the college students shocked those labeled as animals significantly more, being described as “a single word – ‘animals’ – was sufficient to incite intelligent college students to treat others so labeled as if they knew them enough that they deserved to be harmed” (Zimbardo 9). Once again, Jack and the tribe’s behavior falls right into line with the behavior Zimbardo describes by prejudging another group. It starts off very subtly with Jack mocking a non-hunter tribe member, Piggy. After Ralph and Piggy, both non-hunters, complain to Jack after the hunters fail to keep the fire alight, Jack mockingly says, “Jus’ you wait-yah!” (Golding 72). Later in the novel, this behavior progresses to Jack’s tribe of hunters attempting to chase down and kill Ralph – the last survivor on the island that is not a member of Jack’s hunter tribe. Even though the title Jack assigns to his fellow pig hunters is seemingly meaningless, it possesses a more tribalistic nature as suggested by Zimbardo’s research. This further implies that the simple social construct of a name continued to facilitate Jack’s transition to evil.

To conclude, the major factors that contributed to Jack’s rise to evil were the social constructs formed by the boys on the island. These factors never directly or solely contributed to Jack’s evil, but rather all led to it as a combination. Zimbardo accurately depicts these factors as real-world scenarios, thus grounding Jack’s transition to evil in reality.  

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A Situationist Perspective On The Psychology Of Evil. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-situationist-perspective-on-the-psychology-of-evil/
“A Situationist Perspective On The Psychology Of Evil.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-situationist-perspective-on-the-psychology-of-evil/
A Situationist Perspective On The Psychology Of Evil. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-situationist-perspective-on-the-psychology-of-evil/> [Accessed 16 May 2022].
A Situationist Perspective On The Psychology Of Evil [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2022 May 16]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/a-situationist-perspective-on-the-psychology-of-evil/
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