Psychology in Genocide and Why Genocide Will Never Go Away

Psychology is all about human nature. Genocide is as well. How a leader can create policies and an atmosphere of hatred against a given group is fascinating to psychologists because it is an intricate process, which does not develop overnight. In the reading, Psychological Perspective, discussed are two famous psychology experiments that indicate the brutality of human nature and the innate desire to both bow to obedience, and maintain a position of power in society. The Milgram experiment is arguably the most controversial experiment conducted in the 20th century. Certainly, today it would never be allowed to take place given the rise of new ethics codes against causing physical or psychological harm to participants.

Nevertheless, this experiment shows how easily the human mind can be manipulated when we are told to do something by an authority figure. In this situation it is a researcher whom we automatically trust and expect to have the best interests of the participants at heart. However, it could have been a lawyer, a government official, or a doctor that was giving the orders instead of a researcher. What is interesting in this case is that, in many ways, the people giving the shocks continue to do so because the researcher tells them that it is important to science. There is a bigger picture and the actions of the shocker are integral to understanding that picture. This is quite similar to how German soldiers were swayed to commit atrocities in the Second World War. It was not about killing any individual person, but rather there was a bigger, overarching goal that needed to be obtained. This, of course, was the annihilation of the Jewish race.

The Philip Zimbardo jail study is nearly as famous as Milgram’s. In this case, Stanford students were split into a group of guards or a group of inmates. The study was supposed to last 2 weeks but was stopped after only 6 days because of severe emotional, psychological, and physical abuse committed by the guards against the inmates. This study greatly suggests how psychology plays a role in genocide. Anybody can commit horrible acts if they are pushed to do so.

Sadly, genocide will never be eradicated from the world. The reason is quite simple; brutality and cruelty are integral parts of human nature. You cannot eliminate human nature. As much as we would like to think that we would never do something so awful, if pushed just the right amount and if desperate enough we too would be twisted. Just think about mob mentality and how that has such a strong influence on the actions of normally upstanding citizens. However, there are ways to limit the damage that is caused. Psychology professors and Conflict Resolution professors have been studying the connection between psychology and genocide so as to mitigate the consequences should one start. Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that humans have the capacity for tremendous compassion and tremendous resilience. We all, myself included, need to recognize that we have a duty to help those who are victims of genocide. For it could have easily been us that were brutalized, stabbed, shot, or burned. We simply had the fortune of being born in the United States of America, a country that has tremendous wealth and advanced technology. Statistically, it is remarkable that we ended up here. We did nothing to deserve being born in the US, but here we are. If we, the privileged and lucky, do not help these people…. who will?


-Andrew Cooney

January 16th, 2016


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