Policy ForumSocial Psychology

Why Ordinary People Torture Enemy Prisoners

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Science  26 Nov 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5701, pp. 1482-1483
DOI: 10.1126/science.1103788

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Accounts of prisoner abuse and other institutional violence often blame a few isolated individuals, but social psychology emphasizes social contexts, which can make almost anyone oppress, conform, and obey in abetting destructive social behavior. In this Policy Forum, meta-analyses demonstrate the quantitative reliability and import of social contexts. Moreover, recent data show that initial reactions to low-status, oppositional outgroups may involve disgust and contempt, consistent with abuse. Together, social pressures and social prejudices help explain the recent abuse scandals.