12. The Power of Situations

Lesson powerpoint here


  • To understand some of the forces in situations that can lead us to do bad things (e.g. anonymity).
  • To understand the importance of seeing ourselves as heroes in waiting and heroes in training to avoid being caught up in bad situations.

1. Speculation.

  • Ask the class if there are situations that might have an effect on their ability to make good, ethical, moral decisions. What is it about these situations that makes us choose to do bad things?

2.The Ring of Gyges.

  • Share the story of the Ring Of Gyges with pupils (they may already know it). Ask them what they would do if they had a ring that made them invisible.
  • Ask them if they are censoring their answers because they are with a teacher. Ask them why they are doing that. If they were with a group of like-minded people, would they come up with different answers? What does that tell us about the power of situations?
  • Glaucon (who told the story in Plato’s Republic) argued that if you gave a just person and an unjust person the Ring of Gyges, both would behave unjustly. What do pupils think about Glaucon’s point? What is it that prevents us from doing the pleasurable, unjust, immoral things we would love to do?

3.The psychology of groups.

  • Show pupils the Bystanders clip, which looks at individuals who failed to intervene to help another person in distress. Work through the questions on the slide together.
  • Play pupils the clip from Derren Brown’s The Gameshow.
  • Ask pupils to come up with ideas/explanations for why the audience in The Gameshow seemed to take such delight in inflicting pain on another person. Remind them of the idea of erosion of empathy from lesson 5.

4.The antidote to bad groups: heroism.

  • Play pupils the 5 minute video from Philip Zimbardo on heroism.
  • What are the ingredients of being heroic and resisting the influence of bad moral situations?