Psychological Roots of Genocide & Mass Killings

PS 474 Political Psychology, Peffley

I.                   Definitions (from Ervin Staub, The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence)

A.                  Genocide: Genocide is an attempt to eliminate a whole group of people, either directly by killing them, or indirectly by creating conditions that lead to their death or prevent reproduction (e.g., starvation or preventing births)

B.                  Mass killing: killing large numbers of people without the apparent intent to eliminate a whole group to intimidate and establish dominance over a group

C.                  Characteristics of intractable intergroup conflict

1.                   Protracted

2.                   Violent

3.                   Total

4.                   Zero-sum nature

II.       Origins, dynamics & maintenance of mass violence

A.                  Difficult life conditions that threaten basic goals and needs

1.                   Hard times make people feel threatened and frustrated, which can give rise to the desire to harm others

B.                  Psychological Processes that Contribute to Mass Violence

1.                   Strong Identification with a Group

2.                   Scapegoating 

3.                   Ideologies and Societal Beliefs

4.                   Devaluation and deligitimization

5.                   Past Victimization & Collective Memory 

6.                   Societal conditions that make mass killings more likely:

a)                  Strong Respect for Authority

b)                  Monolithic, Nondemocratic Societies

III.             Cultural preconditions and progressions in 4 genocides or mass killings (source: The Roots of Evil)