Category Archives: Genocide

Quick links for the last couple of weeks

Oh dear, the automatic Twitter updates feature needs attention. Sigh. Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve been tweeting about:

The most important tweet of the last two weeks was notification that Sage Pubs are offering FREE online access to their entire collection until October 15, 2010. Sage do this every year or so and it’s a great time to stock up new and classic research. Register here:

Once you’ve done that, check out new issues of the following Sage journals:

Also out, the first September issue of JUSTINFO, published by NCJRS. Funding opps, new publications, courses, resources etc

In other non-forensic journals, the following articles caught my eye:

  • Meta-analytic comparison of 9 violence risk assessment tools. Psychological Bulletin 136(5):740-767
  • Construct-driven development of video-based situational judgment test for police integrity
  • Unconfirmed loss of husband has specific negative mental health consequences vs suffering a confirmed loss
  • Social ties & short-term self-reported delinquent behaviour of personality disordered forensic outpatients
  • Prediction & expln of young offenders’ intentions to reoffend from behavioral, normative & control beliefs
  • Psych Bulletin 136(5) Surviving the Holocaust: A meta-analysis of the long-term sequelae of a genocide.
  • Screening offenders for risk of drop-out and expulsion from correctional programmes –
  • Distinguishing truthful from invented accounts using reality monitoring criteria –
  • Can people successfully feign high levels of interrogative suggestibility & compliance when given instructions to malinger?
  • New research – FMRI & deception: “The production and detection of deception in an interactive game” in _Neuropsychologia_
  • And in the free access PLoS1: fMRI study indicates neural activity associated with deception is valence-related. PLoS One 5(8).

Other bits and pieces, including retweets:

  • “How to Catch a Terrorist: Read His Brainwaves-ORLY?” Wired Danger Room is sceptical about P300 tests as CT measure
  • RT@vaughanbell: Good piece on the attempts to get dodgy fMRI lie detection technology introduced to the courtroom.
  • NPR: A Click Away: Preventing Online Child Porn Viewing
  • How Can We Help Gang Members Leave the Violence Behind? Share your thoughts on the newest PsycCRITIQUES Blog entry
  • Do prison conditions have more of a deterrent effect on crime than the death penalty?
  • Great documentary with forensic issues regarding induced delusional or acute polymorphic psychotic disorder:

Articles in the APA Monitor for October

articleSome articles of forensic interest in the October 2007 issue of the APA’s Monitor on Psychology 38(9):

  • APA’s council calls for ban on torture: APA names specific torture methods that the U.S. government should prohibit.
  • Stay involved or get out? APA members deliberate whether psychologists should play a role in military interrogations.
  • Evil’s mundane roots: Three renowned behavioral scientists illuminate the triggers of our darkest behaviors.
  • Stop the genocide: Several psychologists are working to end Darfur’s ethnic cleansing.
  • Deeper than sticks and stones: Discrimination not only undermines a person’s self-worth, it can destroy family life.
  • Psychologists’ testimony may not help: Judges and juries tend to trust their guts over psychologists’ testimony, speakers report.

    Podcast round-up

    MP3onredSome recent podcasts on topics relevant to psychology and crime:

    Violent Crime in America (Leonard Lopate show, 28 Aug)

    Many theories have been offered up to explain the crime decline of the 1990s – from tougher policing to a decline in the crack cocaine epidemic. But why in the last few years has this decrease in violent crime continued in some cities but not in others? Frank Zimring, Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, and Dr. Andrew Karmen, Professor of Sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York, join Leonard to predict whether the crime decline of the 1990s will continue.

    Women Migrant Workers in Saudi Arabia (Leonard Lopate show, 23 Aug)

    Approximately 2 million women from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other countries work as migrant domestics in Saudi Arabia. They are routinely underpaid, overworked, confined to the workplace, or subject to verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. And two Indonesian women were recently killed by their employers.

    Darfuri Women’s Stories (Leonard Lopate show, 23 Aug)

    Mia Farrow, actor and UN Goodwill Ambassador… just returned from another trip to Chad, where she met with Darfuri women in refugee camps… she tells us about the women that begged her to tell the rest of the world their stories, in the hopes that hearing about the horrific abuses they’ve lived through would urge the rest of the world to bring an end to the atrocities in Darfur.

    Program Certifies Prisoners as Drug Counselors (NPR, 18 Aug)

    Behind the stone walls and razor wire that surround California’s San Quentin State Prison, a group of prisoners is sitting quietly in the prison’s sanctuary for group drug counseling. But the man leading the discussion, Brian Smith, isn’t a psychologist or certified specialist in substance abuse. Smith is a fellow prisoner who has served 24 years of a life sentence. He’s also part of an innovative peer-counseling program at San Quentin that’s turning prisoners into certified drug and alcohol counselors.

    Finally, psychologist Dr Robert Young talks with Dr Raj Persaud about a longitudinal study looking at young people who self-harm (Royal College of Psychiatrists podcast, July 07)

    Photo credit: Focus_on_me, Creative Commons License

    Mass murder: What causes it? Can it be stopped?

    Via Docuticker, a readable and thought-provoking piece on mass murder from the American Sociological Association:

    We asked several experts to discuss various forms of mass murder, their causes, and possible means of prevention. The panelists were Katherine S. Newman, coauthor of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings; Michael Mann, author of The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing; Randall Collins, author of the forthcoming study, Violence: A Micro- Sociological Theory of Antagonistic Confrontations; and James Ron, author of Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel and coauthor of “what shapes the west’s human rights focus?”

    Download the article (PDF) here.

    If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.

    DarfurI know I just keep mentioning and linking to The Situationist Blog, but it is so good, with such high quality posts from such high calibre scholars. Here is another fascinating and sobering post, this time from Paul Slovic.

    I’ve featured his work on genocide, and our responses to genocide before on Psychology and Crime News, in September 2005, the Darfur Day of Action, and back in December 2005, when Slovic asked why the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina moved so many more than the Darfur genocide. It’s absolutely tragic that the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has been going on now for four years and is still claiming lives.

    Slovic writes (11 April):

    “If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” This statement uttered by Mother Teresa captures a powerful and deeply unsettling insight into human nature: Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue “the one” whose plight comes to their attention. But these same people often become numbly indifferent to the plight of “the one” who is “one of many” in a much greater problem. It’s happening right now in regards to Darfur, where over 200,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the past four years and at least another 2.5 million have been driven from their homes. Why aren’t these horrific statistics sparking us to action? Why do good people ignore mass murder and genocide? The answer may lie in human psychology. Specifically, it is our inability to comprehend numbers and relate them to mass human tragedy that stifles our ability to act.

    Slovic includes numerous links to his, and others’, work, including to papers and broadcasts.

    There is another recent article about Slovic’s work on the public response to genocide in New Scientist (7 April).

    See also:

    • More posts on psychology of genocide on PCN here.
    • Michael Metzler at Pooh’s Think comments on Slovic’s article.

    Update (22 April) to include scholarly reference:

    Webcast: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil


    If you’re in the Cambridge Mass area on Monday 2 April at 4pm you can catch a forum led by renowned psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who will be discussing his new book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. If you’re not able to be in Boston, the forum will be broadcast via this link (RealPlayer).

    On his website for the new book, Dr Zimbardo explains:

    In this book, I summarize more than 30 years of research on factors that can create a “perfect storm” which leads good people to engage in evil actions. This transformation of human character is what I call the “Lucifer Effect,” named after God’s favorite angel, Lucifer, who fell from grace and ultimately became Satan.

    Rather than providing a religious analysis, however, I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts.

    The Lucifer Effect website has details of other upcoming talks and interviews with Dr Zimbardo here, including The Daily Show tonight (29 March).

    Hat tip to Stephen Soldz’s blog.

    Photo credit: maria.g, Creative Commons License.

    Replicating the Milgram experiment

    One of the most famous (and infamous) studies in psychology is Stanley Milgram’s series of experiments on obedience to authority. (If you haven’t come across this work before, Wikipedia has a summary, or you can visit the Milgram website, or read Milgram’s original paper (pdf file).) The Milgram effect – that ordinary people are, under some circumstances, prepared to inflict extreme suffering and even death on a fellow human being – has been used to explain many real world examples (including genocide, state torture and terrorism). Many of the original Milgram participants suffered psychological distress and the experiments are therefore considered by most psychologists to be unethical. They have never been replicated by scientists*. Until now.

    A team at University College London has carried out what they believe to be an ethical replication of the Milgram experiment in virtual reality. The UCL press release (20 Dec) explains:

    By repeating the Stanley Milgram’s classic experiment from the 1960s on obedience to authority – that found people would administer apparently lethal electrical shocks to a stranger at the behest of an authority figure – in a virtual environment, the UCL (University College London) led study demonstrated for the first time that participants reacted as though the situation was real.

    […] Following the style of the original experiments, the participants were invited to administer a series of word association memory tests to the (female) virtual human representing the stranger. When she gave an incorrect answer the participants were instructed to administer an ‘electric shock’ to her, increasing the voltage each time she gave an incorrect answer. She responded with increasing discomfort and protests, eventually demanding termination of the experiment. Of the 34 participants 23 saw and heard the virtual human and 11 communicated with her only through a text interface.

    […] The results show there was a clear behavioural difference between the two groups depending on whether they could see the virtual human. All participants in the Hidden Condition (HC) administered all 20 shocks. However, in the Visible Condition (VC) 17 gave all 20 shocks, 3 gave 19 shocks, and 18, 16 and 9 shocks were given by one person each.

    Participants were asked whether they had considered aborting the experiment. Almost half of those who could see the virtual human indicated they had because of their negative feelings about what was happening. Measurements of physiological indicators including heart rate and heart rate variability also indicated that participants reacted as though the situation was real.

    Given that participants reacted as if the situation was real, and that they had negative feelings about what was happening, I am not sure that this actually counts as an ‘ethical’ replication of the Milgram study. (I’m not the only one – William Dutton of the Oxford Internet Institute has apparently commented along similar lines, but the full report is behind a news@nature paywall.)

    The virtual reality study is freely available in PLOS ONE (a public access journal).

    *I said that the experiment had not previously been replicated by scientists, but ethical constraints don’t seem to stop the entertainment industry. A couple of years ago magician Derren Brown put reality show volunteers through the same experiment (pdf), and the Huffington Post reports that US TV channel ABC will screen a replication of the study on 3 January 2007.

    UPDATE (11 Jan): Collision Detection has an interesting post on the UCL study.

    The situation in Darfur is desperate

    Save DarfurToday is the global Darfur Day of Action. A Northwestern University press release (14 Sept) highlights a recent study that indicates that the Darfur death toll is underestimated.

    The unimaginable tale of genocide in Darfur continues to unfold in the news, of people burned, mutilated and otherwise slaughtered. But as devastating as those news reports are, death toll estimates regularly cited by the press are frequently underestimated, according to a new study, titled “Death in Darfur,” which will appear in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Science.

    The death toll in Darfur is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands rather than the tens of thousands of people that large news organizations continue to report, according to a study by John Hagan, John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Law at Northwestern, and Alberto Palloni, H. Edwin Young Professor of International Studies at the University of Wisconsin.

    […] To address the issues in estimating the death toll, Hagan and Palloni built an estimate from the best of the primary surveys from West Darfur. They then extrapolated their estimate across the three states of Darfur for 31 months, resulting in a total estimate that at least 200,000 have died, and probably more.

    Eminent decision psychologist Paul Slovic has been campaigning on Darfur for some time. Some of his commentary and papers are collected here including a great paper that he gave at the Society for Judgement and Decision Making conference in 2005 on why people seem to care more about small numbers of needy victims than the mass victims of genocide. The paper is entitled “If I Look at the Mass I Will Never Act”: Psychic Numbing and Genocide (pdf file). Here’s the abstract:

    Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue individual victims whose needy plight comes to their attention. These same good people, however, often become numbly indifferent to the plight of individuals who are “one of many” in a much greater problem. Why does this occur? The answer to this question will help us answer a related question that is the topic of this paper: Why, over the past century, have good people repeatedly ignored mass murder and genocide? Every episode of mass murder is unique and raises unique obstacles to intervention. But the repetitiveness of such atrocities, ignored by powerful people and nations, and by the general public, calls for explanations that may reflect some fundamental deficiency in our humanity—a deficiency that, once identified, might possibly be overcome.

    One fundamental mechanism that may play a role in many, if not all, episodes of mass-murder neglect involves the capacity to experience affect, the positive and negative feelings that combine with reasoned analysis to guide our judgments, decisions, and actions. I shall draw from psychological research to show how the statistics of mass murder or genocide, no matter how large the numbers, fail to convey the true meaning of such atrocities. The reported numbers of deaths represent dry statistics, “human beings with the tears dried off,” that fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action. Recognizing that we cannot rely only upon our moral feelings to motivate proper action against genocide, we must look to moral argument and international law. The 1948 Genocide Convention was supposed to meet this need, but it has not been effec-tive. It is time to examine this failure in light of the psychological deficiencies described here and design legal and institutional mechanisms that will enforce proper response to genocide and other forms of mass murder.

    News roundup, week ending 25 March 06

    Here are some of the other news items that caught my eye last week:

    The Guardian (25 March) has a profile of convicted murderer Robert Howard, currently serving a life sentence in the UK for raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl. However, Howard has been a suspect in the rapes and murders of several other women and girls in Ireland and England. The profile, by Susan McKay, discusses Howard’s life and crimes in detail.

    Courtesy of a University of Wisconsin-Madison press release (21 March), comes news of two forthcoming books on the Rwandan genocide. Former journalist Scott Straus carried out research in Rwanda in 2002 as a graduate student:

    […] and conducted scores of interviews exploring how such a mass crime became possible. The first of what will be two books based on those efforts – Intimate Enemy: Images and Voices of the Rwandan Genocide – was published this month by Zone Books; the second book will be available in fall 2006. […] The book deals head-on with one of the most disturbing aspects of the genocide – that it was carried out, in essence, by everyday people, who quickly transformed from neighbors to killers.

    Straus is also the organiser of the forthcoming conference “Humanitarian Intervention After 9/11″. It takes place on 31 March at the University of Wisconsin. More here.

    A new study on workplace aggression concludes (unsuprisingly) that stressed out supervisors take it out on their subordinates. According to the press release (Blackwell Publishing, 22 March):

    […] supervisors engage in more abusive behavior when they perceive that the organization they work for is using unfair decision-making to allocate valued resources. […] Organizations seeking to reduce hostility and aggression in the workplace may need to begin with the fair treatment of supervisors,” the authors conclude.

    Here’s the reference:

    The Associated Press (18 March) considers whether the Amber Alert system is “stretched beyond its original purpose”. Apparently,

    […] some law enforcement officials are concerned that Amber Alerts will be overused and therefore become less effective. And in some cases, it’s more difficult for authorities to decide when an alert should be issued because they have to weed out the noncustodial parent who isn’t really a threat or the mother who falsely claims her runaway child has been abducted.

    News that with the launch of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency in the UK in a week’s time, criminals who inform on bosses are to be offered lighter sentences (The Guardian, 23 March). Not uncommon in the US, this is the first time in the UK that “prosecutors will be allowed to make written deals […] offering criminals lighter sentences for ‘grassing’ on their associates”.

    Getting to the truth about genocide

    How do you uncover the truth about victims of genocide?? Wired News (9 Feb) has a report on a group of programmers and statisticians who have painstakingly documented civilian deaths in East Timor.

    The citizens of East Timor who perished during Indonesia’s brutal 24-year occupation of their tiny island nation might have died unaccounted for — as many civilians do in military conflicts around the world. But a group of determined programmers and statisticians refused to let that happen. On Thursday, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group released a report documenting over 102,000 civilian deaths in the former Portuguese colony, which occurred from a year prior to the Indonesian army’s invasion in 1975, to the country’s 1999 independence referendum that formally ended the occupation.