The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers

Ervin Staub

in Understanding Genocide

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780195133622
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847952 | DOI:
The Psychology of Bystanders, Perpetrators, and Heroic Helpers

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What leads groups of people or governments to perpetrate genocide or mass killing? What are the characteristics and psychological processes of individuals and societies that contribute to such group violence? What is the nature of the evolution that leads to it: what are the motives, how do they arise and intensify, how do inhibitions decline? A primary example in this article is the Holocaust, the killing of 5–6 million European Jews by Nazi Germany during World War II. This chapter deals with the psychology and role of both perpetrators and bystanders. As a result of their passivity in the face of others' suffering, bystanders change: they come to accept the persecution and suffering of victims, and some even join the perpetrators. Another focus of this chapter is the psychology of those who attempt to save intended victims, endangering their own lives to do so. Bystanders, perpetrators, and heroic helpers face similar conditions and may be part of the same culture.

Keywords: Holocaust; genocide; mass killing; psychology; bystanders; perpetrators; group violence; Nazi Germany; motives; persecution

Chapter.  14348 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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