The Ethics of Obedience

There are few studies in psychology as infamous as Milgram’s study of obedience to authority, which, simply put, found that ordinary people were surprisingly willing to administer larger and larger shocks to a fellow volunteer who incorrectly answered memory questions, just because a man in a white lab coat insisted that they continue. It’s worth…

World War Wrapup: Explaining obedience without exonerating perpetrators

Investigating the psychology of war comes with a complex ethical dilemma:¬†In attempting to understand how war and genocide can happen, we find ourselves in the position of explaining that people who claimed “we didn’t know” could have really¬†convinced themselves that the Holocaust wasn’t happening, that SS officers who committed atrocities were influenced by natural human…

Struggling for survival through art

Even amid war and Holocaust, humans have a drive to create that is so strong that prisoners in concentration camps would risk death to create their art – art that now provides a glimpse of what life was like in the ghettos and camps. Some scholars argue that art was a “strategy for survival” during…

Timescapes of the concentration camps

When visiting concentration camps, I had reverberating through my mind two quotes I had come across in preparing for this trip: I once visited Dachau with some Americans who had asked me to come along. It was a clean and proper place, and it would have taken more imagination than your average John or Jane…

The Nuremburg Code

The second idea that led to the creation of this class (after discussing Milgram’s study of obedience at a concentration camp) was visiting the birthplace of the Nuremburg Code, which features in any research methods course as the foundation of the practices all researchers must follow. The Nuremburg Code is not from the main “Nuremburg…

Remembrance of things past

As I have visited a dozen monuments of World War II in the past few weeks – to the RAF in the Battle of Britain, to the Londoners who helped fight bombs and fire in the Blitz, to the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, to a man who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1939 –…

Getting into the mind of a hero

After several days of studying prejudice and the Final Solution, it is a balm to the soul to turn the mind toward heroics and resistance at the German Resistance Memorial Center. Some of the most famous members of the resistance, such as Hans and Sophie Scholl, still end tragedy, but the fact that they did…

How we convince ourselves that prejudice is just

On our way to the Wansee House – origin site of the Final Solution – and with tales of discrimination and prejudice fresh in our minds from yesterday’s visit to the Jewish Museum, one question preys on the mind: How could people convince themselves that discriminatory laws were just, that genocide was the correct way…