Mass genocide is still currently happening around the globe. There is much to learn from holocaust experiences. The most memorable and disturbing holocaust took place in WWII during the Nazi regime in Europe. Millions of Jews were brutally murdered in heinous ways. The holocaust still remains to be one of the most tragic events in human history. It reveals the cruelty of mankind.
Many people have questioned how anyone was able to survive through so many horrors they had to face. How did most cope so well with the great losses they had suffered? How did the Nazis become such ruthless killers? How could one nation turn against another so viciously subjecting millions of innocent people including children with inhumane suffering?
Most of my explanations will be branched mainly from social psychology. I will be examining the psychological side of the holocaust. Current theories mainly by Milgram and Zimbardo will further explain the atrocities that have taken place during the holocaust. Milgram focuses on how humans are willing to inflict pain upon others. Meanwhile Zimbardo’s study focuses on conformity and power.
Milgram’s study focuses on obedience. Milgram investigated the factor of obedience and how ordinary people can be lead to hurt others with authority figures. The evidence derived from a series of experiments in which people where asked to administer shocks to a confederate subject as punishment for mistakes in a paired-word recall task seems support that notion. Following the instructions and, when hesitating and protesting, the prompts of the experimenter, over 60% of the “teachers” administered the maximum of 450 volts which is fatal. Unknown to the naïve teachers, no actual shocks were delivered to the learner – but it is quite surprising that despite verbal protests and screams by the learner, a majority of people were willing to administer a potentially dangerous voltage. Milgram concluded that people will comply if they believe that the orders come from a source of authority – a source that “knows what’s best” and has overall responsibility. People come to see themselves as irresponsible instruments that carried out another person’s wishes. Being physically separated from the victim did also help to achieve compliance – the distance helped to “dehumanize” the learner. However, even when the learner was in touch proximity to the teacher, and the teacher had to force the learner’s hand on the shock pad to continue the experiment, 30% of the participants complied. And when the naive subject was part of a group and a confederate administered the shocks, over 90% of the participants went along without any protest.
Of course, an experiment like this is wide open to criticism, and obedience alone cannot be the only reason why ordinary Germans committed the atrocities of the Holocaust. For example, Milgram’s experiment depended to a large extent on the acting abilities of the learner and the experimenter. Maybe people sensed the unreality of the situation, and that is why many went along. Video footage of the experiment shows participants to be convinced.
How does administering shocks in a laboratory correlate with shooting men, women and children? Others argued against the realism and relevance of Milgram’s study: the high compliance levels resulted from the immense trust people had in the reputation of Yale university, where most of the experiments were conducted a high status university would never risk to seriously harm people like that. Compliance levels in Milgram’s study did indeed drop to 48% when the experiments took place in an office building with no association to the university. But the protestors still failed to realize that this criticism is in favor of Milgram’s conclusion. If so many people believed that a reputable university would never do anything that was morally wrong, how must it have been for Germans who faced their entire government? The government at the time…