Monday, January 01, 1990

Violence: Social Psychology: Ordinary People as Torturers

SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY: ON ORDINARY PEOPLE AS TORTURERS: "Social psychological evidence emphasizes the power of social context; in other words, the power of the interpersonal situation. Social psychology has accumulated a century of knowledge about how people influence each other for good or ill [1]. Meta-analysis, the quantitative summary of findings across a variety of studies, reveals the size and consistency of such empirical results. Recent meta-analyses document reliable experimental evidence of social context effects across 25,000 studies of 8 million participants [2].

Virtually anyone can be aggressive if sufficiently provoked, stressed, disgruntled, or hot [3-5].

5) Even more potent predictors of discrimination are the emotional prejudices ("hot" affective feelings such as disgust or contempt) that operate in parallel with cognitive processes. Such emotional reactions appear rapidly, even in neuroimaging of brain activations to outgroups. But even they can be affected by social context. Categorization of people as interchangeable members of an outgroup promotes an amygdala response characteristic of vigilance and alarm and an insula response characteristic of disgust or arousal, depending on social context; these effects dissipate when the same people are encountered as unique individuals.

References (abridged):

1. S. T. Fiske, Social Beings (Wiley, New York, 2004)

2. F. D. Richard, C. F. Bond, J. J. Stokes-Zoota, Rev. Gen. Psychol. 7, 331 (2003)

3. B. A. Bettencourt, N. Miller, Psychol. Bull. 119, 422 (1996)

4. M. Carlson, N. Miller, Sociol. Soc. Res. 72, 155 (1988)

5. M. Carlson, A. Marcus-Newhall, N. Miller, Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 15, 377 (1989)"
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