Evil Acts of Power: An analysis of situational power
Social Psychology 70705
Human beings are capable of performing acts of wonder such as creating symphonies, running miles in minutes, and sailing around the world. Humans are also capable of performing atrocities such as creating weapons of mass destruction, committing murders, and torture. A simplistic view of evil is that some people are just “bad apples” and that their actions are dispositional. However, there are many other factors that contribute to what makes people do evil acts. The social psychology concepts of obedience, power, and the fundamental attribution error are explored throughout this paper through case studies of the Stanford Prison Experiment, the Jonestown cult, and the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghriab.
Low Effort Thinking
Each day people encounter peers, family, and colleagues. Throughout different social circles and situations people evaluate situations and each other using their judgment. Although, we have high levels of information processing it is believed that most times judgments are inaccurate. The fundamental attribution error defined by Ross states that people have the tendency to overestimate dispositional causes and underestimate situation causes in affecting others behavior (1977). The overemphasis on the individual, and disregard for the situation is rampant in our society because of how individualistic America’s institutions are. America is seen as the land of opportunity, and any person is free to pursue whatever dream they may have. Meanwhile, the situational environments are disregarded aren’t given much thought because it is seen that people are who they are regardless of situational stimuli. The independence seen to motivate actions is biased at times because situational factors weigh heavier then the nature of a person. People primarily use low effort thinking to guide their lasting perception of people and social situations. Social schemas have a very big impact on what information people focus on and remember. People are driven to make conclusions about peoples characteristics, which is what leads them to quick and often inaccurate opinions. Fiske and Taylor state that everyday judgments are likely to use low-effort processing and are often incomplete, erroneous, and biased (1991). People let their low-effort thinking to dominate their feelings about others actions, and their perspective on people’s dispositions. The Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanford prison experiment is one of the landmark studies of social psychology. Within a mere six days pre-screened mentally stable young men transformed into either sadistic creatures or helpless beings. The situational power held by the guards within the experiment was greatly enhanced by the ideologies of prison. Prisoners are considered by many to be to be subhuman. Because they have made poor choices, they must be punished and constantly reminded of their place in society. The role of a guard is to enforce rules, and keep order within the prison. However, the dominance felt by the Stanford prison guards led them to consistently be hostile towards the prisoners. Zimbardo states that through the six days of the experiment that the use of direct power by the guards steadily increased, although the resistance of the prisoners dissolved (1971). Since there was little or no resistance from the prisoners the guards were simply exercising their power because they were gaining satisfaction from seeing the prisoners suffer. The consistency of the threats, commands, verbal and physical aggression of the guards was seen as sadistic behavior. Those people’s personalities did not drastically change within six days. Their role as guards, the rule enforcers within the prison lead them to tap into a dark side of their personality. One guard’s journal entry prior to starting the experiment states that he considers...