SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY: ON ORDINARY PEOPLE AS TORTURERS (references in article)
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 . 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 . Abu Ghraib resulted in part from ordinary social processes, not just extraordinary individual evil. Meta-analyses suggests that the right (or wrong) social context can make almost anyone aggress, oppress, conform, and obey.
Louise Ogborn expressed shock when assistant manager Donna Jean Summers told her that the caller on the phone, who identified himself as “Officer Scott,” said Ogborn would have to be strip-searched. One lawyer described the caller as “a freak who plays God.”
Psychological experts say it is human nature to obey orders, no matter how evil they might seem – as was illustrated in one of the most famous and frightening human experiments of the 20th century.
Seeking to understand why so many Germans followed orders during the Holocaust, Dr. Stanley Milgram, a Yale University psychologist, took out a classified ad in 1960 and 1961, inviting residents of New Haven, Conn., to take part in what they were told was a study of the relationship between punishment and learning.