by Philip G. Zimbardo, Psychology Department, Stanford University
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Part 1 of 3
Table of Contents:
• Locating Evil Within Particular People: The Rush to the Dispositional
• The Transformation of The Good Dr. Jekyll into the Evil Mr. Hyde
• Blind Obedience to Authority: The Milgram Investigations
• Ten Steps to Creating Evil Traps for Good People
• On Being Anonymous: Deindividuation and Destructiveness
• Anonymous Children Become Aggressive at Halloween
• Cultural Wisdom: How to Make Warriors Kill in Battle But Not at Home
• Bandura's Model of Moral Disengagement and Dehumanization
• Suspension of The Usual Cognitive Controls Guiding Moral Action
• The Evils of Vandalism Spread Through Anonymous Environments
• The Hostile Imagination Created by Faces of the Enemy
• Can Ordinary Old Men Become Murderers Overnight?
• Educating Hatred and Destructive Imaginations
• The Stanford Prison Experiment: Institutional and Systemic Power to Corrupt
• The Evil of Inaction
• Torturers and Executioners: Pathological Types or Situational Imperatives?
• Suicide Bombers: Mindless Fanatics or Mindful Martyrs?
• Summing Up Before Moving On
• Understanding What Went Wrong in Abu Ghraib Prison
• Promoting Civic Virtue, Moral Engagement and Human Goodness
To understand anti-social behavior by individuals, which includes violence, torture and terrorism, I endorse a greater reliance on situational variables and processes than has been traditional in psychology. The dominant dispositional orientation, embedded in a psychology of individualism, focuses on internal factors that people bring into various situations, such as genetic, personality, character, and pathological risk factors. While this perspective is obviously important to appreciating the integrity of individual functioning, it is vital to add an appreciation of the extent to which human actions may come under situational influences that can be quite powerful. Those influences have not been fully recognized within psychology or society in trying to explain unusual or “evil” behaviors, such as that of the abuses of Iraqi prisoners by United States military police guards at Abu Ghraib Prison. How one understands the root causes of such behaviors then impacts treatment and prevention strategies. This view has both influenced and been informed by a body of social psychological research and theory. The situationist approach is to the dispositional as public health models of disease are to medical models. It follows basic principles of Lewinian theory that propel situational determinants of behavior to a foreground well beyond being merely extenuating background circumstances. Unique to this situationist approach is using experimental laboratory and field research as demonstrations of real world phenomena that other approaches only analyze verbally or rely on archival or correlational data for answers.
The basic paradigm to be presented illustrates the relative ease with which "ordinary," good men and women are induced into behaving in “evil ways” by turning on or off one or another social situational variable. The plan of this chapter is to outline some of my laboratory and field studies on deindividuation, aggression, vandalism, and the Stanford Prison Experiment, along with a process analysis of Milgram's obedience studies, and Bandura's analysis of “moral disengagement.”This body of research demonstrates the under-recognized power of social situations to alter the mental representations and behavior of individuals, groups and nations. I explore briefly extreme instances of “evil” behavior for their dispositional or situational foundations – torturers, death squad violence workers and terrorist suicide-bombers. Finally, we turn to consider the opposite side of the coin, by focusing on the positive virtues of heroism and ways in which society and educational systems can promote pro-social values.
Evil is intentionally behaving -- or causing others to act – in ways that demean, dehumanize, harm, destroy, or kill innocent people. This behaviorally-focused definition makes an agent of agency responsible for purposeful, motivated actions that have a range of negative consequences to other people. It excludes accidental or unintended harmful outcomes, as well as the broader, generic forms of institutional evil, such as poverty, prejudice or destruction of the environment by agents of corporate greed. But it does include corporate responsibility for marketing and selling products with known disease-causing, death-dealing properties, such as cigarette manufacturers, or other drug dealers. It also extends beyond the proximal agent of aggression, as studied in research on interpersonal violence, to encompass those in distal positions of authority whose orders or plans are carried out by functionaries. This is true of military commanders and national leaders, such as Hilter, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and other tyrants for their complicity in creating political systems of destruction in their own nations and in the world.
The same human mind that creates the most beautiful works of art and extraordinary marvels of technology is equally responsible for the perversion of its own perfection. This most dynamic organ in the universe has been a seemingly endless source for creating ever more vile torture chambers and instruments of horror in earlier centuries, the “bestial machinery” unleashed on Chinese citizens by Japanese soldiers in their rape of Nanking (see Iris Chang, 1997), and the recent demonstration of “creative evil” of the destruction of the World Trade Center by turning commercial airlines into weapons of mass destruction. How can the unimaginable become so readily imagined?
My concern centers around how good, ordinary people can be recruited, induced, seduced into behaving in ways that could be classified as evil. In contrast to the traditional approach of trying to identify "evil people" to account for the evil in our midst, I will focus on trying to outline some of the central conditions that are involved in the transformation of good, or average, people into perpetrators of evil. In the experimental research to be described, “evil” really amounts to the research participant acting in ways that harm others in that same setting.
Locating Evil Within Particular People: The Rush to the Dispositional
"Who is responsible for evil in the world, given that there is an all-powerful, omniscient God who is also all-Good?" That conundrum began the intellectual scaffolding of the Inquisition in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe. As revealed in Malleus Maleficarum, the handbook of the German Inquisitors from the Roman Catholic Church, the inquiry concluded that the Devil was the source of all evil. However, these theologians argued the Devil works his evil through intermediaries, lesser demons and of course, human witches. So the hunt for evil focused on those marginalized people who looked or acted differently from ordinary people, who might qualify under rigorous examination of conscience, and torture, to expose them as witches, and then put to death. They were mostly women who could readily be exploited without sources of defense, especially when they had resources that could be confiscated. An analysis of this legacy of institutionalized violence against women is detailed by historian Anne Barstow (1994) in Witchcraze. Paradoxically, this early effort of the Inquisition to understand the origins of evil and develop interventions to cope with evil instead created new forms of evil that fulfilled all facets of my definition. But it exemplifies the notion of simplifying the complex problem of widespread evil by identifying individuals who might be the guilty parties, and then making them pay for their evil deeds.
The authoritarian personality syndrome was developed by a team of psychologists (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson, & Sanford, 1950) after WWII, trying to make sense of the Holocaust and the broad appeal of national Fascism and Hitler. Their dispositional bias led them to focus on a set of personality factors underlying the fascist mentality. However, what they overlooked were the host of processes operating at political, economic, societal, and historical levels of analysis to influence and direct so many millions of individuals into a constrained behavioral channel of hating Jews and admiring the apparent strength of their dictator.
This tendency to explain observed behavior by reference to dispositions, while ignoring or minimizing the impact of situational variables has been termed the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) by my colleague, Lee Ross (1977). We are all subject to this dual bias of overutilizing dispositional analyses and under-utilizing situational explanations when faced with ambiguous causal scenarios we want to understand. We succumb to this effect because so much of our education, social and professional training, and societal agencies are geared toward a focus on individual, dispositional orientations. Dispositional analyses are a central operating feature of cultures that are based on individualistic rather than collectivist values (see Triandis, 1994). Thus, it is individuals who get praise and fame and wealth for achievement and are honored for their uniqueness, but it is also individuals who are blamed for the ills of society. Our legal systems, medical, educational and religious systems all are founded on principles of individualism.
Dispositional analyses of anti-social, or non-normative, behaviors always include strategies for behavior modification to make the deviant individuals fit better by education or therapy, or to exclude them from society by imprisonment, exile or execution. However, locating evil within selected individuals or groups always has the 'social virtue' of rendering society or its institutions as blameless. The focus on people as causes for evil then exonerates societal structures and political decision-making for contributing to the more fundamental circumstances that create poverty, marginal existence for some citizens, racism, sexism and elitism.
Most of us take comfort in the illusion that there is an impermeable line separating those bad people from us good people. Its rigid boundaries constrain good from becoming bad, or bad from ever being reversed into fostering good outcomes. That view also means we have little interest in understanding the motivations and circumstances that contributed to how those bad people first came to engage in evil behavior. I find it good to remind myself of the geo-political analysis of the Russian novelist, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a victim of persecution by the Soviet KGB, that the line between good and evil lies in the center of every human heart.
The Transformation of The Good Dr. Jekyll into the Evil Mr. Hyde
I am sure that most readers were as fascinated as I was with the Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of the behavioral transformation of good Dr. Jekyll into the murderous Mr. Hyde. That dramatic change required some strange chemical formula. I wondered, along with others, if such a transformation could be accomplished without drugs. Were there other means that people could use to change human behavior in such extreme fashion? I would later discover that social psychology had recipes for such transformations.
It has been my mission as a psychologist to understand better how virtually anyone could be recruited to engage in evil deeds that deprive other human beings of their dignity, humanity and life. So I have always begun my analyses of all sorts of anti-social behavior, even the most horrendous instances of evil, with the question: “What could make me do the same thing?” And further, I wonder what were the set of situational and structural circumstances that empowered others – maybe similar to me -- to engage in deeds that they too once thought were alien to their nature. This first led me to set aside any false pride that, “I am not that kind of person,” once I acknowledged any circumstances under which I might become that kind of person. Then it led me to want to investigate a range of conditions under which ordinary people like me could do things that violated the traditional sense of morality.
I argue that the human mind is so marvelous that it can adapt to virtually any known environmental circumstance in order to survive, to create, and to destroy as necessary. We are not born with tendencies toward good or evil, but with mental templates to do either, more gloriously than ever before, or more devastatingly than ever experienced before—as the World Trade Center disaster of September 11, 2001 revealed. It is only through the recognition that we are all part of the human condition, that humility takes precedence over unfounded pride in acknowledging our vulnerability to situational forces. Although the research I will present next has been fascinated with identifying the variables and processes by which ordinary people can be seduced or initiated into engaging in evil deeds, it is apparent that the time has come to better understand how to enable ordinary people to resist such forces and how to promote pro-social behavior. If we want to develop mechanisms for combating transformations of good people into evil perpetrators, it is essential to learn first the causal mechanisms underlying those behavior changes. We need to discover the range of identifiable variables involved in the complex processes that influence so many of us to do so much bad, to commit so much evil throughout the globe. Space does not allow me to review the many contributions of my colleagues to these issues, thus I recommend their works to concerned readers. Please see the breadth of ideas that have been presented by social psychological colleagues, Baumeister, 1997; Darley, 1992; Staub, 1989, and Waller, 2002, for starters.
Blind Obedience to Authority: The Milgram Investigations
Stanley Milgram (1974) developed an ingenious research procedure to demonstrate the extent to which situational forces could overwhelm individual will to resist. He ‘shocked the world’ with his unexpected finding of extremely high rates of compliance to the demands of an authority figure to continue shocking an innocent victim to the maximum possible level (also see Blass, 2004). He found that about 67% of research participants “went all the way" up to the top shock level of 450 volts in shocking another person that were supposedly helping. Milgram’s study revealed that ordinary American citizens could so easily be led to engage in “electrocuting a nice stranger,” as the Nazis had been led to murder Jews.
After this initial demonstration with Yale College students, Milgram went on to conduct 18 experimental variations on more than a thousand subjects from a variety of backgrounds, ages, both genders and all educational levels. In each of these studies he varied one social psychological variable and observed its impact on the extent of obedience to the unjust authority’s pressure to continue to shock the “learner-victim.” The data told the story of the extreme pliability of human nature: Almost everyone could be totally obedient or almost everyone could resist authority pressures. It all depended on the situational variables he introduced in each study. He was able to demonstrate that compliance rates could soar to 90 percent of people who delivered the maximum 450 volts to the Learner-Victim, or could be reduced to less than 10 percent of total obedience – by introducing one variable into the compliance recipe.
Want maximum obedience? Provide social models of compliance by having participants observe peers behaving obediently. Want people to resist authority pressures? Provide social models of peers who rebelled. Interestingly, almost no one shocked the Learner-Victim when he actually asked to be shocked. They refused authority pressure when the target person acted like a masochist who wanted to be shocked. In each of the other variations on this diverse range of ordinary American citizens from two towns in Connecticut, low, medium, or high levels of compliant obedience could be readily elicited as if one were simply turning a Human Nature Dial.
What is the expected base rate of such obedience in the Milgram setting according to experts on human nature? When forty psychiatrists were given the basic description of this experiment, their average estimate of the percent of United States citizens who would give the full 450 volts was only one percent! Only sadists would engage in such sadistic behavior, they believed. These experts on human behavior were totally wrong because they ignored the situational determinants of behavior in the procedural description of the experiment. Their training in psychiatry had led them to overly rely on the dispositional perspective that comes from their professional training. This is a strong instance of the operation of the fundamental attribution error in action.
In a sense what was also unique about the Milgram paradigm was its quantification of evil in terms of the shock level each person chose or resisted on the shock generator that allegedly delivered shocks to a mild- mannered confederate who played the role of the pupil or learner while the subject enacted the teacher role. (No one ever actually got shocked, but the participants believed they were actually delivering ever more painful shocks with each increasing shock button).
Ten Steps to Creating Evil Traps for Good People
Let's outline some of the procedures in this research paradigm that seduced many ordinary citizens to engage in this apparently harmful behavior. In doing so, I want to draw parallels to compliance strategies used by "influence professionals" in real-world settings, such as salespeople, cult recruiters, and our national leaders (see Cialdini, 2001).
Among the influence principles to be extracted from Milgram’s paradigm for getting ordinary people to do things they originally believe they would not are the following ten:
1) Offering an Ideology so that a big lie provides justification for any means to be used to achieve the seemingly desirable, essential goal. Presenting an acceptable justification, or rationale, for engaging in the undesirable action, such as wanting to help people improve their memory by judicious use of punishment strategies. In experiments it is known as the “cover story” because it is a cover-up for the procedures that follow which might not make sense on their own. The real world equivalent is known as an “ideology.” Most nations rely on the same ideology of “threats to national security” before going to war or suppressing dissident political opposition. It is a convenient familiar ideological theme that fascist governments and military juntas have used to destroy socialist or communist opposition. When citizens fear that their national security is being threatened they are willing to surrender their basic freedoms when the government offers them that exchange. In the United States, the fear of the threat to national security posed by terrorists has led too many citizens to accept torture of prisoners as a necessary tactic for securing information that could prevent further attacks. That reasoning contributed to the background of the abuses by the American guards at Abu Ghraib prison. See the provocative analysis by Susan Fiske and her colleagues on why ordinary people torture enemy prisoners (Fiske, Harris, & Cuddy, 2004).
The fact that the prisoners were part of a group encountered as enemies would only exaggerate the tendency to feel spontaneous prejudice against outgroups. In this context, oppression and discrimination are synonymous. One of the most basic principles of social psychology is that people prefer their own group (8) and attribute bad behavior to outgroups (9). Prejudice especially festers if people see the outgroup as threatening cherished values (10–12). This would have certainly applied to the guards viewing their prisoners at Abu Ghraib, but it also applies in more “normal” situations. A recent sample of U.S. citizens on average viewed Muslims and Arabs as not sharing their interests and stereotyped them as not especially sincere, honest, friendly, or warm (13–15).
Even more potent predictors of discrimination are the emotional prejudices (“hot” affective feelings such as disgust or contempt) that operate in parallel with cognitive processes (16–18). Such emotional reactions appear rapidly, even in neuroimaging of brain activations to outgroups (19, 20). But even they can be affected by social context. Categorization of people as interchangeable members of an outgroup promotes an amygdala response characteristic of vigilance and alarm and an insula response characteristic of disgust or arousal, depending on social context; these effects dissipate when the same people are encountered as unique individuals (21, 22).
According to our survey data (13, 14), the contemptible, disgusting kind of outgroup— low-status opponents—elicits a mix of active and passive harm: attacking and fighting, as well as excluding and demeaning. This certainly describes the Abu Ghraib abuse of captured enemies. It also fits our national sample of Americans (14) who reported that allegedly contemptible outgroups such as homeless people, welfare recipients, Turks, and Arabs often are attacked or excluded (14).
Given an environment conducive to aggression and prisoners deemed disgusting and subhuman (23), well-established principles of conformity to peers (24, 25) and obedience to authority (26) may account for the widespread nature of the abuse.
-- Why Ordinary People Torture Enemy Prisoners, by Susan T. Fiske, Lasana T. Harris, Amy J.C. Cuddy
2) Arranging some form of contractual obligation, verbal or written, to enact the behavior.
3) Giving participants meaningful roles to play (teacher, student) that carry with them previously learned positive values and response scripts.
4) Presenting basic rules to be followed, that seem to make sense prior to their actual use, but then can be arbitrarily used to justify mindless compliance. Make the rules vague and change them as necessary.
5) Altering the semantics of the act, the actor, and the action, (from hurting victims to helping learners by punishing them)—replace reality with desirable rhetoric.
6) Creating opportunities for diffusion of responsibility for negative outcomes; others will be responsible, or it won’t be evident that the actor will be held liable.
7) Starting the path toward the ultimate evil act with a small, insignificant first step (only 15 volts).
8) Having successively increasing steps on the pathway be gradual, so that they are hardly noticed as being different from one’s most recent prior action. (By increasing each level of aggression in gradual steps of only 30 volts, no new level of harm seemed like a noticeable difference to the Milgram participants.)
9) Changing the nature of the influence authority from initially “Just” and reasonable to “Unjust” and demanding, even irrational, elicits initial compliance and later confusion, but continued obedience.
10) Making the "exit costs" high, and making the process of exiting difficult by allowing usual forms of verbal dissent (that make people feel good about themselves), while insisting on behavioral compliance (“I know you are not that kind of person, just keep doing as I tell you.”)
Such procedures are utilized across varied influence situations where those in authority want others to do their bidding, but know that few would engage in the "end game" final solution without first being properly prepared psychologically to do the "unthinkable."
On Being Anonymous: Deindividuation and Destructiveness
The idea for my doing research that utilized anonymity as an independent variable in the study of aggressive behavior came not from a psychological theory but rather from a novel. William Golding's (1962) Nobel prize-winning novel of the transformation of good British Christian choir boys into murderous little beasts centers on how the change in one's external physical appearance leads to a change in one’s mental state and behavior. Painting one’s self, changing one's outward appearance, made it possible for some boys to disinhibit previously restrained impulses to kill a pig for food. Once that alien deed of killing another creature was accomplished, then they could continue on to kill with pleasure, both animals and people alike. Is it psychologically valid that external appearance could impact internal and behavioral processes? That is the question I answered with a set of experiments and field studies on the psychology of deindividuation (Zimbardo, 1970).
The basic procedure involved having young women deliver a series of painful electric shocks to each of two other young women whom they could see and hear in a one-way mirror before them. Half were randomly assigned to a condition of anonymity, or deindividuation, half to one of uniqueness, or individuation. The four college student subjects in each deindividuation group had their appearance concealed by hoods, their names replaced by numbers and treated as a group not as individuals. The comparison group consisted of those in an individuation treatment who wore name tags and made to feel unique. Both were in four-woman groups and asked to make the same responses of shocking each of two woman "victims" over the course of 20 trials. The cover story was that these “victims” were trying to be creative under stress, so the job of our subjects was to stress them by administering painful electric shocks while I, as the experimenter, gave them the creativity test. Unlike the Milgram paradigm, there was no authority insisting on their aggressive behavior because I was in the adjacent room, seen in the two-way observation mirror by the subjects along with each of the two alleged women in the creativity study. The dependent variable was the duration of shock administered, not shock level intensity.
The results were clear: Women in the deindividuation condition delivered twice as much shock to both victims as did the women in the individuated comparison condition. Moreover, they shocked both victims, the one previously rated as pleasant and the other unpleasant victim, more over the course of the 20 trials, while the individuated subjects shocked the pleasant woman less over time than they did the unpleasant one. (Again, no shocks were actually administered, although all participants believed they had delivered shocks to each of the two women, who acted out being hurt by the shocks. One important conclusion flows from this research and its various replications and extensions, some using military personnel from the Belgian army. Anything that makes someone feel anonymous, as if no one knows who they are, reduces a sense of accountability and creates the potential for that person to act in evil ways -- if and when the situation gives permission for violence.
Anonymous Children Become Aggressive at Halloween
We know that people also mask themselves for hedonistic pleasures, as at Carnival rituals in many Catholic countries. Children in America and some other countries put on masks and costumes for Halloween parties. My former student, Scott Fraser, (1974) arranged for elementary school children to go to a special, experimental Halloween party given by their teacher. There were many games to play and for each game won, tokens were earned that could be exchanged for gifts at the end of the party. Half the games were non-aggressive in nature, and half were confrontations between two children in order to reach the goal. The experimental design was a within group, A-B-A format; no costumes (A), costumes (B), no costumes (A). Initially while the games were played the teacher said the costumes were on the way so they would start the fun while waiting. Then the costumes arrived and were worn as the games continued, and finally, the costumes were removed to go to other children in other parties, and the games went on for the third phase; each phase for about an hour.
The data are striking testimony to the power of anonymity. Aggression increased significantly as soon as the costumes were worn, more than doubling from the initial base level average. But when the costumes were removed, aggression dropped back well below initial level base rate. Equally interesting was the second result, that aggression cost the children a loss of tokens. Acting in the aggressive games took more time than the non-aggressive games and only one of two contestants could win, so overall it cost money to be aggressive, but that did not matter when the children were costumed and anonymous. The least number of tokens won was during the second, anonymity phase, where aggression was highest. A third important finding was that there was no carry-over of aggressive behavior from the high B phase level to the last A phase level, which was comparable to the initial A phase. The behavior change due to the anonymity had not created a dispositional, internal change, only an outward response change. Change the situation, voila the behavior changes in predictable fashion.
Cultural Wisdom: How to Make Warriors Kill in Battle But Not at Home
Let's leave the laboratory and fun and games at children's parties to the real world where these issues of anonymity and violence may take on life and death significance. Some societies go to war without having the young male warriors change their appearance, while others always include ritual transformations of appearance by painting or masking the warriors (as in Lord of the Flies). Does that change in external appearance make a difference in how warring enemies are treated? Harvard anthropologist, John Watson (1974) posed that question after reading my Nebraska Symposium chapter (Zimbardo, 1970). The Human Area Files were his data source to collect two pieces of data on societies that did or did not change appearance of warriors prior to going to war and the extent to which they killed, tortured or mutilated their victims.
The results are striking confirmation of the prediction that anonymity promotes destructive behavior—when permission is also given to behave in aggressive ways that are ordinarily prohibited. Of the 23 societies for which these two data sets were present, the majority (12 of 15, 80 %) of societies in which warriors changed their appearance were those noted as most destructive, while that was true of only one of the eight where the warriors did not change appearance before going to battle. Ninety percent of the time when victims were killed, tortured or mutilated it was by warriors who had first changed their appearance.
Thus, cultural wisdom dictates that a key ingredient in transforming ordinarily nonaggressive young men into warriors who can kill on command is to first change their external appearance. War is about old men persuading young men to harm and kill other young men like themselves in a war. It becomes easier to do so if they first change their appearance, to alter their usual external façade by putting on uniforms, or masks, or painting their faces. With that anonymity in, out goes their usual internal focus of compassion and concern for others. When the war is won, the culture now dictates that their warriors return to their peaceful status – readily accomplished by removing their uniform, taking off the mask, and returning to their former external façade.
Bandura's Model of Moral Disengagement and Dehumanization
The psychological mechanisms involved in getting good people to do evil are embodied in two theoretical models, the first elaborated by me (1970) and modified by input from subsequent variants on my deindividuation conceptions, notably by Diener (1980). The second is Bandura's model of moral disengagement (1988) that specifies the conditions under which anyone can be led to act immorally, even those who usually ascribe to high levels of morality.
Bandura's model outlines how it is possible to morally disengage from destructive conduct by using a set of cognitive mechanisms that alter: a) one's perception of the reprehensible conduct (engaging in moral justifications, making palliative comparisons, using euphemistic labeling for one's conduct): b) one's sense of the detrimental effects of that conduct (minimizing, ignoring, or misconstruing the consequences); c) one's sense of responsibility for the link between reprehensible conduct and their detrimental effects (displacing or diffusing responsibility), and d) one’s view of the victim (dehumanizing him or her, and attributing the blame for the outcome to the victim).
Bandura and his students (Bandura, Underwood, and Fromson, 1975) designed a powerful experiment that is an elegantly simple demonstration of the power of dehumanizing labels. It reveals how easy it is to induce intelligent college students to accept a dehumanizing label of other people and then to act aggressively based on that stereotyped term. A group of four participants were led to believe they were overhearing the research assistant tell the experimenter that the students from another college were present to start the study in which they were to deliver electric shocks of varying intensity to them (allegedly as part of a group problem-solving study). In one of the three randomly assigned conditions, the subjects overheard the assistant say to the experimenter that the other students seemed "nice.” In a second condition, they heard that the other students seemed like "animals,” while for a third group the assistant did not label the students in the other group of college students.
The dependent variable of shock intensity clearly reflected this situational manipulation. The experimental subjects gave most shock to those labeled in the dehumanizing way as "animals," and their shock level increased linearly over the ten trials. Those labeled "nice" were given the least shock, while the unlabelled group was in the middle of these two extremes. Thus, a single word – “animals” -- was sufficient to incite intelligent college students to treat others so labeled as if they knew them enough that that they deserved to be harmed.
What is also of interest in a close examination of the graphed data shows that on the first trial there is no difference across the three experimental treatments in the level of shock administered, but with each successive opportunity, the shock levels diverge. Those shocking the so-called “animals” shock them more and more over time, a result comparable to the escalating shock level of the deindividuated female students in my earlier study. That rise in aggressive responding over time, with practice, or with experience, illustrates a self-reinforcing effect of aggressive or violent responding – it is increasingly pleasurable.
The Value of shamata or Calm-Awareness meditation is that we begin to become aware of the very beginning of thoughts and feelings. We begin to notice the space in which our thought, speech, and action take place. Normally, because of fear or confusion arising from our experience of this space, we try to quickly fill in any gaps in our experience. Once we become comfortable with this space and recognize it as a part of ourselves, then we can use this perception of space to take more control of our reactions to the world around us.
As we've seen from our discussion of Individual Karma, Karma has to do with our tendencies; with how we get caught up in the impulses that we have in relation to the things, feelings, perceptions, etc that we experience. In the initial moments of thought, there is a tendency to think a certain way, to view and perceive things in a certain way, and to feel a certain way. We then act or speak based on those impulses, feelings and perceptions. These impulses or tendencies arise because of reinforced impulses that are the result of how we have dealt with similar impulses or experiences in the past, or how we have seen others deal in a similar way with similar experiences. Our choice to follow these impulses or follow different impulses is what is called our Throwing Karma which becomes the karma that projects us into future circumstances.
Karma has been translated in English in the past as Cause and Effect, but Cause and Effect is very linear. An example is to say If you kill someone, you will go to hell ('A' leads to 'B'). But Karma doesn't really act in that manner. Karma is actually about reinforcing certain views, reinforcing certain thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, reinforcing types of speech, and reinforcing our tendencies to act in certain ways. So Karma is very much about tendencies, influences, and temptations. It's about impulses and which ones we follow and which ones we ignore.
-- OUR OWN ROLE IN OUR KARMA (Throwing Karma)
Taking Control of our Thought, Speech, and Action.
http://www.peacefulgarden.ca/teachings/ ... Karma.html
Perhaps the pleasure is not so much in inflicting pain to others as in the sense of power and control one feels in such a situation of dominance.
On the plus side in this study, that arbitrary labeling also resulted in others being treated with greater respect if someone in authority labeled them positively. Compared with the neutral, no information condition, those perceived as “nice” were least harmed. There is an important message here about the power of words, labels, rhetoric, of stereotyped labeling, to be used for good or evil.
Suspension of The Usual Cognitive Controls Guiding Moral Action
What my model adds to the mix of what is needed to get good people to engage in evil deeds is a focus on the role of cognitive controls that usually guide behavior in socially desirable and personally acceptable ways. It can be accomplished by knocking out these control processes, blocking them, minimizing them, or reorienting them. Doing so, suspends conscience, self-awareness, sense of personal responsibility, obligation, commitment, liability, morality and analyses in terms of costs/ benefits of given actions. The two general strategies for accomplishing this objective are: reducing cues of social accountability of the actor (no one knows who I am, nor cares to), and reducing concerns for self-evaluation by the actor. The first cuts out concerns for social evaluation, for social approval, and does so by making the actor feel anonymous. It works when one is functioning in an environment that conveys anonymity and diffuses personal responsibility across others in the situation. The second strategy stops self-monitoring and consistency monitoring by relying on tactics that alter one's state of consciousness (through drugs, arousing strong emotions, hyper-intense actions, getting into an expanded present-time orientation where there is no concern for past or future), and by projecting responsibility outward onto others.
My research on deindividuation and that of other social psychologists (see Prentice-Dunn & Rogers, 1983) differs from the paradigm in Milgram's studies in that there is no authority figure present urging the subject to obey. Rather, the situation is created in such a way that subjects act in accordance to paths made available to them, without thinking through the meaning or consequences of those actions. Their actions are not cognitively guided as they are typically, but directed by the actions of others in proximity to them, or by their strongly aroused emotional states, and by situationally available cues, such as the presence of weapons (see Berkowitz, 1993).
The Evils of Vandalism Spread Through Anonymous Environments
It is possible for certain environments to convey a sense of anonymity on those who live or behave in their midst. Where that happens, the people living there do not have a sense of community. Vandalism and graffiti may be interpreted as an individual's attempt for public notoriety in a society that deindividuates them, that gives them no legitimate outlets for personal recognition. Vandalism may be an attempt to have an impact on one’s environment through destruction when doing so constructively does not seem possible.
I did a simple field study to demonstrate the ecological differences between places where anonymity ruled versus a sense of community dominated the scene. I abandoned used, but good condition cars in the Bronx, New York City and in Palo Alto, California, one block away from New York University and Stanford University, respectively. License plates were removed and hoods raised slightly -- to serve as ethological "releaser cues" for the potential vandals' attack behavior. It worked swiftly in the Bronx, as we watched and filmed from a vantage point across the street. Within 10 minutes of officially beginning this study, the first vandals surfaced. This parade of vandals continued for two days, when there was nothing left of value to strip, then the vandals began destroying the remains. In 48 hours we recorded 23 separate destructive contacts by individual or groups, who either took something from the abandoned vehicle or did something to wreck it. Curiously, only one of these episodes involved adolescents, the rest were by adults, many well dressed and many driving cars, so that they might qualify as at least lower middle-class. Anonymity can make brazen vandals of us all. But what about the fate of the abandoned car in Palo Alto? Our time-lapse film revealed that no one vandalized any part of the car over a 5-day period. When we removed the car, three local residents called the police to say that an abandoned car was being stolen (the local police had been notified of our field study). That is one definition of “community,” where people care about what happens on their turf even to the person or property of strangers. I think they do so based in part on their reciprocal assumption that others in that neighborhood would also care about them.
I now feel that any environmental, societal conditions that contribute to making some members of society feel that they are anonymous, that no one knows who they are, that no one recognizes their individuality and thus their humanity, makes them potential assassins and vandals, a danger to my person and my property -- and yours (Zimbardo, 1976).
Curiously, this little field demonstration which was publicized in Time Magazine (Feb. 28, 1969, Diary of a Vandalized Car) was the only empirical research presented in support of a controversial theory about crime, known as “Broken Windows Theory”. Political scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist George Kelling outlined their novel theory about the twin causes of crime in a popular Atlantic Monthly article (March, 1982 ). Crime is a product of individual criminals and situational conditions of public disorder. When people see abandoned cars in the streets, graffiti everywhere and broken windows not covered, it is a sign that no one really cares about that neighborhood. That perception of public disorder or disarray then lowers inhibitions against further destructive or criminal actions of those who are not ordinarily criminal. Their solution to crime: remove abandoned cars, paint out graffiti and fix broken windows. When that advice was followed in New York City, crime rates dropped significantly the next year. I was pleased that this little study could have such big indirect effects.
The Hostile Imagination Created by Faces of the Enemy
We need to add a few more operational principles to our arsenal of weapons that trigger evil acts among men and women who are ordinarily good people. To do so we need to rise above the research focusing on individual actors and look to nation-states. We can learn about some of these principles by considering how nations prepare their young men to engage in deadly wars and prepare citizens to support the risks of going to war, especially a war of aggression. This difficult transformation is accomplished by a special form of cognitive conditioning. Images of the "Enemy" are created by national propaganda to prepare the minds of soldiers and citizens to hate those who fit the new category of your enemy. This mental conditioning is a soldier's most potent weapon, without it, he could probably never fire his weapon to kill another young man in the cross-hairs of his gun sight. A fascinating account of how this "hostile imagination" is created in the minds of soldiers and their families is presented in Faces of the Enemy by Sam Keen (1991; 2004), and his companion DVD.
Archetypes of the enemy are created by propaganda fashioned by the governments of most nations against those judged to be the dangerous "them," "outsiders," "enemies." These visual images create a consensual societal paranoia that is focused on the enemy who would do harm to the women, children, homes, and god of the soldier's nation, way of life, and so forth. Keen's analysis of this propaganda on a world-wide scale reveals that there are a select number of categories utilized by "homo hostilis" to invent an evil enemy in the minds of good members of righteous tribes. The enemy is: aggressor; faceless; rapist; godless; barbarian; greedy; criminal; torturer; death; a dehumanized animal, or just an abstraction. Finally, there is the enemy as worthy, heroic opponent to be crushed in “mortal combat” -- as in the video game of the same name.
Can Ordinary Old Men Become Murderers Overnight?
One of the clearest illustrations of my fundamental theme of how ordinary people can be transformed into engaging in evil deeds that are alien to their past history and to their moral development comes from the analysis of British historian, Christopher Browning. He recounts in Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (1993) that in March, 1942 about 80 percent of all victims of the Holocaust were still alive, but a mere 11 months later about 80 percent were dead. In this short period of time, the Endlösung (Hitler's 'Final Solution') was energized by means of an intense wave of mass mobile murder squads in Poland. This genocide required mobilization of a large-scale killing machine at the same time as able-bodied German soldiers were needed on the collapsing Russian front. Since most Polish Jews lived in small towns and not the large cities, the question that Browning raised about the German high command was "where had they found the manpower during this pivotal year of the war for such an astounding logistical achievement in mass murder?" (p. xvi).
His answer came from archives of Nazi war crimes, in the form of the activities of Reserve Battalion 101, a unit of about 500 men from Hamburg, Germany. They were elderly, family men too old to be drafted into the army, from working-class and lower middle-class backgrounds, with no military police experience, just raw recruits sent to Poland without warning of, or any training in, their secret mission -- the total extermination of all Jews living in the remote villages of Poland. In just 4 months they had shot to death at point blank range at least 38,000 Jews and had another 45,000 deported to the concentration camp at Treblinka.
Initially, their commander told them that this was a difficult mission which must be obeyed by the battalion. However, he added that any individual could refuse to execute these men, women and children. Records indicate that at first about half the men refused and let the other police reservists engage in the mass murder. But over time, social modeling processes took their toll, as did any guilt-induced persuasion by those reservists who had been doing the shooting. By the end of their journey up to 90 percent of the men in Battalion 101 were involved in the shootings, even proudly taking photographs of their up-close and personal killing of Jews. Like the photos of the guards at Abu Ghraib prison, these policemen put themselves in their “trophy photos” as proud killers of the Jewish menace.
Browning makes clear that there was no special selection of these men, only that they were as "ordinary" as can be imagined -- until they were put into a situation in which they had “official” permission and encouragement to act sadistically and brutishly against those arbitrarily labeled as the “enemy.” He also compares the underlying mechanism operating in that far off land at that distant time to both the psychological processes at work in the Milgram research and the Stanford Prison Experiment.
Educating Hatred and Destructive Imaginations
The second broad class of operational principles by which otherwise good people can be recruited into evil is through education/ socialization processes that are sanctioned by the government in power, enacted within school programs, and supported by parents and teachers. A prime example is the way in which German children in the 1930's and 40's were systematically indoctrinated to hate Jews, to make them the all-purpose enemy of the new German nation. Space limitations do not allow full documentation of this process, but I will include several examples of one way in which governments are responsible for sanctioning evil.
In Germany, as the Nazi party rose to power in 1933, no target of Nazification took higher priority than the re-education of Germany's youth. Hitler wrote, “I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men. A violently active, dominating, brutal youth -- that is what I am after." (The New Order, 1989, pp. 101-2). To teach the youth about geography and race, special primers were created and ordered to be read starting in the first grade of elementary school (see Brooks, 1989). These "hate primers" were brightly colored comic books that contrasted the beautiful blond Aryans with the despicably ugly caricatured Jew. They sold in the hundreds of thousands. One was titled: Trust No Fox in the Green Meadows and No Jew on His Oath. What is most insidious about this kind of hate conditioning is that they were presented as facts to be learned and to be tested upon, or from which to practice new penmanship. In the copy of the "Trust No Fox" text that I reviewed, a series of cartoons illustrates all the ways in which Jews deceive Aryans, get rich and fat from dominating them, are lascivious, mean and without compassion for the plight of the poor and the elderly Aryans.
The final scenarios depict the retribution that Aryan children get first by expelling Jewish teachers and children from their school -- so that "proper discipline and order" can now be taught, prohibiting them from community areas, like public parks, then expelling them from Germany. The sign in the cartoon reads ominously, "One-way street." Indeed, it was a unidirectional street that led eventually to the concentration camps and crematoria that were the center piece of Hitler’s Final Solution for genocide of the Jews.