Chapter

Perpetrator Behavior as Destructive Obedience

Thomas Blass

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/9780195133622.003.0005
Perpetrator Behavior as Destructive Obedience

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What psychological mechanism transformed the average, and presumably normal, citizens of Germany and its allies into people who would carry out or tolerate unimaginable acts of cruelty against their fellow citizens, the Jews, resulting in the death of six million of them? The question is especially compelling given the fact that, as some historians of the Holocaust have noted, those who participated in the genocide generally did so willingly, not under duress. This chapter evaluates the adequacy of what has been, arguably, the most influential psychological account of perpetrator behavior during the Holocaust, the social-psychological approach of Stanley Milgram (1963, 1974). Milgram's theorizing about the behavior of perpetrators was based on a series of experiments on the dynamics of obedience to authority and the effects of punishment on learning.

Keywords: Holocaust; genocide; Germany; Jews; Stanley Milgram; perpetrators; behavior; social psychology; authority; obedience

Chapter.  8348 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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