Understanding Genocide: The Social Psychology of the Holocaust

Leonard S. Newman, Ralph Erber

Research output: Book/Report/EssayBook

44 Scopus citations


When and why do groups target each other for extermination? How do seemingly normal people become participants in genocide? Why do some individuals come to the rescue of members of targeted groups, while others just passively observe their victimization? And how do perpetrators and bystanders later come to terms with the choices that they made? In this book - the first collection of essays representing social psychological perspectives on genocide and the Holocaust - prominent social psychologists use the principles derived from contemporary research in their field to try to shed light on the behavior of the perpetrators of genocide. The primary focus of this volume is on the Holocaust, but the conclusions reached have relevance for attempts to understand any episode of mass killing. Among the topics covered are how crises and difficult life conditions might set the stage for violent intergroup conflict; why some groups are more likely than others to be selected as scapegoats; how certain cultural values and beliefs could facilitate the initiation of genocide; the roles of conformity and obedience to authority in shaping behavior; how engaging in violent behavior makes it easier to for one to aggress again; the evidence for a "genocide-prone" personality; and how perpetrators deceive themselves about what they have done. The book seeks to provide the reader with new ways of making sense of the horrors of genocide and to provide at least some of the knowledge needed to anticipate and prevent future such tragic episodes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages372
ISBN (Electronic)9780199847952
ISBN (Print)9780195133622
StatePublished - Sep 26 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Conformity
  • Genocide
  • Holocaust
  • Intergroup conflict
  • Mass killing
  • Scapegoats
  • Social psychology
  • Victimization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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