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Training People to Inflict Pain: State Terror and Social Learning.

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  • Training People to Inflict Pain: State Terror and Social Learning.

    Gibson, J. T. (1991). Training People to Inflict Pain: State Terror and Social Learning. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 31(2), 72–87.


    This article examines people-police, soldiers, and others-whose institutional role it is in many societies to follow orders that, they know, will cause pain to others. As horrible as it is, evidence shows that most of these people-from Nazi war criminals and Greek military police serving the Greek junta of the 1970s to Uruguayan psychologist-torturers-were, in fact, "ordinary" individuals inflicting pain to achieve mundane goals of everyday lives. Why did they behave as they did? Milgram's theoretical model of obedience to authority, Bandura's psychological mechanisms to reduce strain, and Altemeyer's theory of right-wing authoritarianism, together, suggest that when individuals who are predisposed to obedience are placed in situations in which they are ordered to commit atrocious acts and in which the strain of committing these acts is systematically reduced through training, the likelihood increases that they will become inflictors of pain. Evidence available throughout the world shows that these psychological principles are part-and-parcel of training of military torturers and that mentally normal people can be successfully trained for this horrendous profession. Altemeyer suggested that certain personality characteristics-fearfulness and self-righteousness-make it easier for one to be trained to inflict pain, by arousing hostile aggression and by developing a belief in moral superiority. Unfortunately, the soldier in the regular army is not immune. Neither is the student.


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