When and why we torture: A review of psychology research

Shannon Houck, Meredith A. Repke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is an ongoing debate about the treatment of detainees, torture use, and torture efficacy. Missing from this debate, however, is empirical research on the psychology of torture. When and why do people justify the use of torture, and what influences torture endorsement? Psychological science has a valuable opportunity to address the applied problem of torture by further investigating when and why people justify its use. Our goals are to (a) contribute to the public debate about torture with empirical arguments, and (b) inform and promote the inclusion of psychological expertise in the development of policy related to torture. With those goals in mind, this article provides an overview of the psychology research on torture to date, and discusses how this research translates to the torture debate and policy-making. Further, we highlight the need for conducting additional empirical research on torture’s ineffectiveness, as well as the need for researchers to engage in the public discussion of issues related to torture.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)272-283
JournalTranslational Issues in Psychological Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2017


  • torture
  • attitudes
  • attitude-change
  • policy


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