Philip Zimbardo: Class of 2013 Commencement Speaker

May 9, 2013

Researcher and author of influential works on the human mind

Commencement Ceremony will be at 2 p.m., Sunday, May 19 

TACOMA, Wash. – Philip Zimbardo, the internationally acclaimed psychologist, professor, and author who is well known to educators through his PBS video series Discovering Psychology, will deliver the 2013 Commencement address at University of Puget Sound.

Often referred to as the “voice and face of contemporary American psychology,” the Stanford University professor emeritus broke new ground during his decades-long exploration of questions about the corrupting influence of power, the nature of shyness and heroism, and how our attitudes toward time affect our lives.

“Dr. Zimbardo has had a profound influence on our understanding of human behavior and how we might live more effectively and humanely as individuals and as a society,” said Puget Sound President Ronald R. Thomas. “Most impressively he has never stopped being a teacher, whether his audience is a single student or a national television audience. He has pursued his discipline with the passion that is at the heart of a liberal arts education and we are privileged to have him share his challenging perspectives on the human condition with the Class of 2013.”

Thomas will present Zimbardo with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in recognition of his exceptional work in the field of psychology and a lifetime of contributions to his profession, his students, and the public. University of Puget Sound’s 2013 Commencement Ceremony will be held 2–4:30 p.m., Sunday, May 19, at Baker Stadium on campus. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Zimbardo, a Stanford University professor since 1968, previously taught at Yale, New York University, and Columbia University. He continues to teach doctoral students at Palo Alto University. A former president of the American Psychological Association, Zimbardo served twice as the elected president of the Western Psychological Association, and was chair of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, among other prestigious roles.

Born during the Great Depression in New York’s South Bronx ghetto, where he quickly realized that education would be his ticket out of poverty, Zimbardo attended Brooklyn College and then Yale University, where he earned a Master of Arts and doctoral degrees in psychology. He has since authored more than 400 professional publications and 50 books, including the textbook Psychology and Life, now in its 19th edition by Pearson; The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (Random House, 2007); and The Time Paradox (Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd, Free Press, 2008).

The Lucifer Effect has had a dramatic impact in the field, addressing the question: “What happens when you put good people in an evil place?” The book followed Zimbardo’s work with the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in which 24 college student volunteers engaged in an extended experiment. Some played the role of “guards” and some played “prisoners.” The planned two-week event was terminated after six days because the aggression of the “guards” escalated out of control as their perceived power and institutional support for that power turned toxic.

In more recent years Zimbardo has addressed a very different side of the human psyche, launching the Heroic Imagination Project. This series of education programs demonstrates that each of us has a silent, inner hero within that we can choose to liberate.

“My goal is to democratize and demystify heroism so that mainstream Americans will begin to see heroic action as realistically possible for any one of us, and to invite young people to see their lives as heroes’ journeys,” he told the blog Neuronarrative.

Stemming from this project, Zimbardo has now launched the Group Dynamics and the New Heroism project, an experimental study of what conditions allow people to act courageously in defense of ethical principles or people in need of protection. Zimbardo told the How to Change the World blog in a 2007 interview:

“I have to believe that creating a generation of such ordinary heroes is our best defense against evil, whether on the battlefield, in prisons, or corporate headquarters.”

Zimbardo has been honored with multiple awards for his work as an educator, researcher, and writer, including The Dagmar and Václav Havel Foundation VIZE 97 Prize for 2005, which recognized his lifetime of research on the human condition.

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