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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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Explaining the Holocaust

Explaining the Holocaust

Does Social Psychology Exonerate the Perpetrators?

(p.301) 13 Explaining the Holocaust
Understanding Genocide

Arthur G. Miller

Amy M. Buddie

Jeffrey Kretschmar

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the proposition that social-psychological explanations of the Holocaust tend to exonerate perpetrators. It suggests that social-psychological explanations may be viewed as relatively condoning toward the perpetrators of genocide. It argues that the most central, defining feature of social psychology — one that distinguishes social psychology from other disciplines such as personality, developmental, or clinical psychology — is an emphasis on social influence, or what Ross and Nishett (1991) term the “power of the situation”. The main point is that social-psychological explanations, in emphasizing the causal power of situational forces, construe actors committing harmful actions as having relatively low personal responsibility and intentionality for their actions, and, in some instances, a low degree of conscious awareness of the determinants of their behaviors. A prototypical experiment in social psychology — for example, on aggression, helping behavior, prejudice, or conformity — randomly assigns participants to different conditions. The logic of random assignment permits the social psychologist to interpret behavior as caused by the situation or by the participant's definition of the situation into which he or she was placed.

Keywords:   Holocaust, genocide, perpetrators, social psychology, aggression, random assignment, social influence, responsibility, intentionality

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