Chapter

Introduction

Christopher R. Browning

in Understanding Genocide

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780195133622
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847952 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195133622.003.0001
Introduction

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This book seeks to understand not only the perpetrators of genocide but also other aspects of human behavior during the Holocaust. It explores the continuing and dynamic interaction between cognition and attitude on the one hand, and situation on the other, and rejects the notion that either can be seen as an “unmoved mover” of human behavior. Gratuitous cruelty is understood not only as a reflection of initial attitude (of hatred and contempt for the victim) but also as the product of an escalating process of harm-doing and devaluation of the victim, in which people are changed by what they do. Through the concept of “pluralistic ignorance”, it is argued that the attitudes of individuals within a group cannot necessarily be inferred from collective behavior and conformity to a perceived group norm. In addition, the book discusses the strong tendency of many to see social psychological explanations as deterministic and individually exonerating. The contributions of social psychology that help us understand how human beliefs are formed and behavior shaped must not be ignored.

Keywords: Holocaust; genocide; human behavior; social psychology; cognition; collective behavior; cruelty; pluralistic ignorance; perpetrators

Chapter.  2438 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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