Letter/Observer Forum

Not So Situational

To the editor:

We are concerned by the message that has been conveyed to the general public regarding the power of the situation to “trump individual dispositions” (“The Banality of Evil,” Observer, April 2007). In contrast to Zimbardo, we believe that there is actually little scientific evidence indicating that situations are more important than dispositions for explaining behavior. Indeed, researchers recently summarized over 25,000 studies and found that personality and situations contribute almost equally to various outcomes, and many studies demonstrate the complex ways in which people react differently to similar situations. Our concern is that Zimbardo has misrepresented the scientific evidence in an attempt to offer a purely situational account of the antisocial acts perpetrated at Abu Ghraib. The scientific consensus, based on existing data, is that people vary in their propensity for antisocial behavior and that environments transact with personalities. Some people are more likely to turn out to be bad apples than others, and this is particularly evident in certain situations.


M. Brent Donnellan, Michigan State University

R. Chris Fraley, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Robert F. Krueger, University of Minnesota

Faculty and PhD Level Professionals
Jennifer S. Beer, University of California, Davis
S. Alexandra Burt, Michigan State University
David M. Buss, University of Texas, Austin
Dana R. Carey, Harvard University
Rand D. Conger, University of California, Davis
David C. Funder, University of California, Riverside
Xiaojia Ge, University of Minnesota
Samuel D. Gosling, University of Texas, Austin
Robert Hogan, Hogan Assessment Systems
William G. Iacono, University of Minnesota
John A. Johnson, Pennsylvania State University, DuBois
Wendy Johnson, University of Edinburgh
Robert A. Josephs, University of Texas, Austin
Deborah A. Kashy, Michigan State University
David A. Kenny, University of Connecticut
Laura A. King, University of Missouri, Columbia
Kelly L. Klump, Michigan State University
Scott O. Lilienfeld, Emory University
Richard E. Lucas, Michigan State University
Kate McLean, University of Toronto
Matthias R. Mehl, University of Arizona
Daniel K. Mroczek, Purdue University
Frederick Oswald, Michigan State University
Daniel J. Ozer, University of California, Riverside
P. Jason Rentfrow, Cambridge University
Brent W. Roberts, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign
Richard W. Robins, University of California, Davis
Neal Schmitt, Michigan State University
Oliver C. Schultheiss, University of Michigan
Todd K. Shackelford, Florida Atlantic University.
Rebecca Shiner, Colgate University
William B. Swann, Jr., University of Texas, Austin
Jennifer L. Tackett, University of Toronto
Jessica L. Tracy, University of British Columbia
Timothy J. Trull, University of Missouri-Columbia
Kali H. Trzesniewski, University of Western Ontario
Simine Vazire, Washington University
Alexander von Eye, Michigan State University
David Watson, University of Iowa
Keith F. Widaman, University of California, Davis

Graduate Students
Robert A. Ackerman, Michigan State University
Daniel M. Blonigen, University of Minnesota
Portia Dyrenforth, Michigan State University
Kimdy Le, Michigan State University
Erik E. Noftle, University of California, Davis
Edward A. Witt, Michigan State University

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