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Deindividuation and Attrocities

Jon Hanson and Michael McCann post at The Situationist:

Phil Zimbardo, in his great book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, describes “how a simple change in one’s external appearance can trigger dramatic changes in overt behavior.” The term of art is “deindividuation,” and the evidence for its powerful effects is as strong as it is disturbing.

For instance, Zimbardo reports one Milgram-like experiment in which “women in the deindividuation condition delivered twice as much shock to . . . victims as did the comparison women” who were not anonymous. It didn’t’ matter what the deindividuated women had previously felt about their shock victims. Regardless, they “increased shock time . . . over the course of twenty trials, holding their finger down ever longer on the shock switch as their victims twisted and moaned right before them. In contrast the individuated women discriminated between . . . likable and unpleasant targets, shocking the pleasant woman less over time than they did the unpleasant one.”

Zimbardo also reports the findings of anthropologist, R.J. Watson who found that of twenty-three societies for which data was available, the warriors for those societies changed their appearance significantly in fifteen.

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Categories: Conflict & Security
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