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Understanding GenocideThe Social Psychology of the Holocaust$
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Leonard S. Newman and Ralph Erber

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780195133622

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195133622.001.0001

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(p.2) (p.3) Introduction
Understanding Genocide

Christopher R. Browning

Oxford University Press

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

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