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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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Perpetrator Behavior as Destructive Obedience

Perpetrator Behavior as Destructive Obedience

An Evaluation of Stanley Milgram’s Perspective, the Most Influential Social-Psychological Approach to the Holocaust

Chapter:
(p.91) 4 Perpetrator Behavior as Destructive Obedience
Source:
Understanding Genocide
Author(s):

Thomas Blass

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195133622.003.0005

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

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