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Losing your individuality, conforming and becoming dehumanized leads to evil acts

Losing your individuality, conforming and becoming dehumanized leads to evil acts
Losing your individuality, conforming and becoming dehumanized leads to evil acts
Losing your individuality, conforming and becoming dehumanized leads to evil acts

The following is part IV – the continuation of a transcript of an interview between Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior and Relationship Expert, PhD and    Professor Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, revealing that when one loses his/her individuality and conforms, one can become dehumanized and can result in committing acts of evil.  Click here to read Part III:

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah. We just did not look at it. Essentially what I’m looking at – I’m a social psychologist so I’m over emphasizing the importance of situational factors; what are the things outside of a person, what are the things in addition to a person’s disposition, their personality, their traits, their character style, that can trigger these reactions? So we know from the prison study it’s playing a role. It’s following rules. It’s being part of a group where the group has a social norm of – if you’re a guard, the social norm is, you know, “We have to punish prisoners. Show them who is boss.” But it’s also being de-individuated, I call it. That is, a sense of anonymity; that nobody knows who I am, and nobody cares. So just putting people in uniforms takes away their individuality.

And one of the keys is psychological perception of dehumanization of others, that is, thinking of others as prisoners, as objects, as gooks, as geeks, as blacks, the “N” word. Once you stigmatize other people, thinking of them as less than human, then you get into the mode of moral disengagement. You disengage your morality. So usually you’re a good person, but when I now look at this person and I don’t see a person; I see an object, all of my usual sentiments and values and compassion go out the window. This is just, you know – an Iraqi prisoner, this is just an object; this is just like an animal. So I —

Patrick: Which is the whole way we go to war. We go to war by not looking at their faces which is exactly what happened in the propaganda that was conducted during the Second World War

Professor Zimbardo: Absolutely.

Patrick: Yeah. Whether that was by the Germans or by the Allies where we created the other person to look like a monster, no longer human, they became faceless. We see that in movies done by Hollywood where they’ll create the whole armies to look almost faceless.

Professor Zimbardo: Oh, absolutely. There is a wonderful book that your listeners should get. It’s called “Faces of the Enemy” by Sam Keen. What he does is he presents in this book a whole raft of the propaganda that every nation uses; visual propaganda, posters and the media to prepare citizens to hate and soldiers to want to kill the enemy. So it’s the enemy as the rapists of our women, enemy as enemy of our guard, enemy as enemy of our way of life, enemy as insect-reptile; so it’s all the images that the propaganda wants to put into our minds so that we will develop what Sam Keen calls the “hostile imagination,” to hate and want to kill.


Patrick: Which is what, you know, which is the way we go to war. Again, I say the same – that’s how we go to war by seeing the enemy as faceless. They become —

Professor Zimbardo: Right, absolutely. But see, that’s what I call the system’s influence. So here’s —

Patrick: Right.

Professor Zimbardo: This is top down. This is the government through its propaganda, through its media wings. Now the system has the power, has the resources, to create that propaganda to promote those books, to put it on email, I mean to put out on mail. If you look at the run up to the war on Iraq, if you look at the covers of Life magazine and Time magazine, and you see the transformation of Saddam Hussein and the evil empires; you can see that over time magazines that we think are relatively objective, you know, they were being fed by the Bush administration these views that this is evil, more and more evil. The president of North Korea in one of these is Dr. Evil, so that becomes part of the way we think and pretty soon we say, “Yeah, we want to go to war. We want to kill those people. They don’t deserve to be alive.” So dehumanization is really a key element in – certainly in all mass murder in preparation for war.

Patrick: Based on all your studies – because you’ve been studying it now for almost 40 years —

Professor Zimbardo: Too long, too long.

Patrick: — but you’ve come up with amazing findings, so I know it’s well worth – it’s very rewarding. Is there a difference between the evil that exists between a male and a female? For example, and I’ll just clarify my question, can a man commit more evil deeds than a woman?

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah, because we have more opportunities. In general, most evil in the world, most violence, most aggression, most war, most genocide has been done by men, but that’s in part because we put men in positions in the military, in police, in position and we give them weapons and we train them. But also the whole training in most every society is for men to be domineering, dominate, warriors.

One of the highest levels of violence in the world over the years has been in Scotland. It’s been in Scotland, and research shows the reason is that in sheep herding societies like Scotland your main enemy is people who are going to steal the sheep. So the sheep herder has to get the reputation of being a killer; that you take one of my sheep and you die, your whole family dies. So lots of the clan wars are all about honor.

So essentially you had to send out a message to everybody that if you touch one of my sheep, you die and family dies and I blow up your castle or your home, whatever. So there’s a case in which the violence becomes part of a whole culture, part of a way of life, and the people who are doing it say it’s just protective, “I have to put out this image because – I don’t want to kill anybody, but if they steal my sheep I have nothing left.”

Patrick: Well other than societal and cultural programming which has made the male more aggressive and more violent, is or are there innate gender differences relating to violence?

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah, I’d have to say that I don’t know the – I can’t answer that.

Patrick: Well here’s something that I’ve noticed and this is just something primarily through observation. You watch little boys and little girls at the beach, and the little boy will pick up a rock and throw it over his head; the girl will tend to just sit there and play. She’s more into play. The boy is definitely more active. And when you see kids being mean or nasty or even violent or harmful or cruel to animals, it tends to be more boys than girls.

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah, in general that’s true. That is. But it’s the complicated interaction of genetic inheritance plus, again, the situation. We encourage boys. The games we give them to play involve physical activity. For girls it’s really fine movements, so we’re encouraging girls to do painting, to do drawings, you know, essentially knitting, sewing. For the boys, we want them to be physically active.


It’s only recently, now, that girls are beginning to play in “boys’ sports”. But I guess I want to believe – I love women – I want to believe that, yeah, women are less prone to be aggressive.

Patrick: But wouldn’t the hormonal profile of a woman support that? I mean, estrogen has a very different effect on the body versus what testosterone – testosterone will make you assertive, aggressive, competitive and pushes you to action.

Professor Zimbardo: Yeah. But see, I’ve also done research where I have women who are put in a situation to harm other women under a rationale that the other women are trying to be creative under stress, and their job was to stress them. And for half of the group of women, I created a state of de-individuation. We put them in hoods. We put them in the dark. We put them in a small group. And those whose anonymity – who we made feel anonymous, were twice as aggressive as other women who were randomly assigned to be identifiable. 

Click here for Part V  – the continuation of this interview – Who is more evil – men or women? The Stanley Milgram Experiment:

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