What Is a “Social-Psychological” Account of Perpetrator Behavior?

Leonard S. Newman

in Understanding Genocide

Published in print September 2002 | ISBN: 9780195133622
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199847952 | DOI:
What Is a “Social-Psychological” Account of Perpetrator Behavior?

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Among social scientists, social psychologists in particular would seem to be well positioned to shed light on the processes that lead individuals and groups to become perpetrators of genocide. Brehm and Kassin (1996) defined social psychology as “the scientific study of the way individuals think, feel, desire, and act in social situations”. One would hope, then, that social-psychological principles could be applied to the thoughts, feelings, desires, and actions of people in social situations involving the systematic murder of other human beings. But at least one recent analysis of the behavior of genocide perpetrators concluded that “social-psychological explanations” are irrelevant to the goal of understanding such behavior. The analysis in question was presented in a book that has done much to promote public debate on genocide in general and the behavior of Holocaust perpetrators in particular. That work is Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (1996), which is a prominent example of common misconceptions about the social-psychological analysis of the relationship between persons and situations.

Keywords: Holocaust; genocide; perpetrators; social psychology; behavior; Daniel Goldhagen; murder

Chapter.  11438 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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