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TED Talks: The Psychology of evil

Example Web Site and/or Technical Equipment Required

Website Example:

Tech Product Equipment

computer, projector, and speakers

Activity Description

In this activity, students watch a Ted Talks video of Philip Zimbardo followed by a discussion and student essay. His premise is that heroes are ordinary people whose social action is extra-ordinary, who act when others are passive. The video does have some graphic photos of abuse; however, TED Talks has removed the most graphic images. The video is 23 minutes long. Be sure to preview the video to be sure it is appropriate for your students.

Philip Zimbardo is a well-known professor of psychology at Stanford University and has created a series of videos, on different psychological topics. Be sure to check out other videos found on his YouTube channel.


  1. Check to be sure the site is not blocked at your school and that your speakers are loud enough to be heard by all students.
  2. Preview the video.
  3. Jot down a few questions to help start the discussion.


  1. Start with a discussion of some of the events in the news. Pick one horrific event and ask why, and how could a person do those things.
  2. Introduce the video and warn students of the graphic nature of the photos.
  3. Play the video and fast forward through the photos if needed.
  4. Ask students for their response to the video. Is it true? Do they agree? Use your discussion questions to expand the discussion.
  5. Ask students to share their thoughts about the video in an essay. Do they agree with Dr. Zimbardo’s premise that heroes are ordinary people whose social action is extra-ordinary, who act when others are passive? Students need to include details from the video or life to defend their position. Are they a hero in waiting?
  6. Be sure to give students time to brainstorm and develop their essays.
  7. Share some of the ideas from the essays in a concluding discussion.

More Ways

More psychology resources can be found on Mourer's AP Psych Web site , which includes videos, and vocabulary flashcards and quizzes. The site is designed for students studying for the AP Psychology exam.

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Social Studies

  • Psychology
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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN200091-A2 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.