In this oral history, emeritus professor of psychology Philip G. Zimbardo talks about his childhood, graduate education at Yale, joining the Stanford faculty, his research and its evolution over time, involvement in political activism, and contributions to the field of psychology and to Stanford University.
Zimbardo recalls his childhood in the Bronx interrupted by a brief relocation to North Hollywood, Calif., his hospital stay at a young age, and his experiences of discrimination. He talks about his friendship at high school with Stanley Milgram, who was later known for his controversial study on obedience to authority. He also describes his part-time job while a Brooklyn College undergraduate student at a Broadway theater and his love for musicals and jazz.
Zimbardo reflects on his graduate study at Yale, his early career, and joining the Stanford faculty. He discusses at length the Stanford Prison Experiment, the lessons learned, and his testimony on behalf of an American prison guard accused of abusing detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He describes the outgrowth of the prison experiment in terms of his new research in applied psychology, the Stanford Shyness Project, as well as a shift in his research focus from explicating “evil” behavior engendered by situations to fostering good through his current work with the Heroic Imagination Project. Zimbardo talks about the growth of the Psychology Department at Stanford and shares memories of Stanley Milgram and other psychologists he has worked with in his career. He discusses his work as the president of the American Psychological Association and his outreach to clinical psychologists to promote collaboration and research programs.
Zimbardo talks about his involvement in political activism, including his position as secretary of the Brooklyn Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People while he was a graduate student at Yale, his encounter with Malcolm X, and co-authoring an article in Psychology Today on President Donald Trump’s mental health.
Zimbardo concludes the interview with thoughts on his Stanford career, his legacy, including his role in revitalizing the Music Department by inviting Stanley Getz to be resident musician.