The Psychology of Evil

Based on the prison abuse at Abu Ghraib and Dr. Zimbardo

What happened at Abu Ghraib (Brief Description)

"Abu Ghraib, twenty miles west of Baghdad, was one of the world’s most notorious prisons, with torture, weekly executions, and vile living conditions. As many as fifty thousand men and women—no accurate count is possible—were jammed into Abu Ghraib at one time, in twelve-by-twelve-foot cells that were little more than human holding pits." -The New Yorker

"During the war in Iraq that began in March 2003, personnel of the United States Army and the Central Intelligence Agency committed a series of human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq."

American soldiers tortured and abused these prisoners brutally just because they had the power to do so. They were not ordered to do it, they took advantage of their capabilities.

What is Dr. Zimbardo's theory?

His essential question: "What pushes some people to become perpetrators of evil, while others act heroically on behalf of those in need?" He believes in the psychological definition of evil being, "evil is the exercise of power". Key word: power. He believes in another form of power being authority, that can be subjected to "intentionally harm people psychologically, physically, to destroy people mortally, or ideas, and to commit crimes against humanity." So what is responsible for these wrong doings? He believes the power is in the system. So if you want to change the person, you have to change the situation, if you want to change the situation, you have to know where the power is in the system.

Understanding that the fine line between good and evil is permeable

  1. Being permeable, different people are able to cross the line back and forth. Meaning good people can be seduced into crossing that line and being perpetrators of evil just as bad people can recover with help, reform, or rehabilitation.

How do psychologists understand such transformations of human character and behavior?

  • Aside from the fine line of good and evil being permeable, there are other ways to understand such transformations like..
  • There are "bad apples" in "bad barrels" and "good barrels".
  • Dispositional: the foundation of all social science meaning to look at what is internal of the individual. (bad apples).
  • Situational: the external factors around the individual. (bad barrel).
  • System: the head of all internal and external functions. (bad barrel makers) also where the power is.

What makes people go wrong?

Based off of all the information from above, I have gathered together the supported theory that power is what consumes evil and vice versa. Whoever has the power in the system is eligible and adept to harm someone else. So what makes them go wrong, is the ability to abuse the power they withhold.

APA Citation

Abu Ghraib Abuse Photos. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from

1st Picture: (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from,_abu_ghraib_never_left_us/

Gallery Pictures: Abu Ghraib Abuse Photos. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2015, from

All info and Dr Zimbardo's Bias:

The psychology of evil. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2015, from