Originally posted on The Situationist:
A new essay in PLOS Biology returns to the path-breaking research of Stanley Milgram and Situationist Contributor Phil Zimbardo and asks whether the studies demonstrate the power of blind conformity or something else. In particular, the authors, Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher, are interested in the possibility that social identification might be driving the dynamic. As Haslam explains, “Decent people participate in horrific acts not because they become passive, mindless functionaries who do not know what they are doing, but rather because they come to believe — typically under the influence of those in authority — that what they are doing is right.”
Here is the abstract of the paper:
Understanding of the psychology of tyranny is dominated by classic studies from the 1960s and 1970s: Milgram’s research on obedience to authority and Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Supporting popular notions of the banality of evil, this research has been taken to show that people conform passively and unthinkingly to both the instructions and the roles that authorities provide, however malevolent these may be. Recently, though, this consensus has been challenged by empirical work informed by social identity theorizing. This suggests that individuals’ willingness to follow authorities is conditional on identification with the authority in question and an associated belief that the authority is right.