The Heroic Imagination

A Talk with Philip Zimbardo at Edge:

Zimbardo200_3 “…little is known about the psychology of heroism.  There’s a scant body of empirical literature, and most of it consists of interviews with people weeks, months, or decades after they have done a heroic deed.  Much of the first work on heroism came from interviewing Christians and others who helped Jews during the Holocaust.  Nobody asked the question “did anybody help?” until 20 years later. People helped in every country,where the lives of Jews were on the Nazi stake. However, the main response that researchers got during interviews with these people was, “it wasn’t special.”  Regardless of what they did, or where they did it, or how they did it, these heroes typically said, “I am not a hero. I did what had to be done. I can’t imagine how anybody in that situation who wouldn’t do it.”  Some of these heroes tended to be more religious than not, and tended to have parents who had been active in various kinds of causes. However, many more  religious people with socially-politically active parents did nothing to help.”

Known simply as the Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo’s study is one of the most famous experiments in social psychology and remains, along with Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments, one of the most shocking.   But that was just the beginning of the story.

More here.