The role of social psychology in preventing group-selective mass atrocities

Document Type

Book Chapter


Mass atrocities and their prevention are not a primary area of research within the field of social psychology, which is concerned with the ways in which the social situation influences individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Allport, 1985). Yet genocide and mass atrocity prevention have captured the interest and attention of social psychologists (e.g., Suedfeld, 2000). Although social psychological field research in societies that have recently undergone genocide and other mass atrocities is scarce, some social psychologists have investigated these topics by drawing on archival data and scholarship about mass atrocities from other disciplines. These scholars have developed theoretical models and (less frequently) obtained some empirical evidence of social psychological mechanisms that contribute to the evolution of mass atrocities and that, in turn, may be used to derive strategies for mass atrocity prevention. In this chapter, I review social psychological theories and practical contributions that social psychologists have made to our knowledge about mass atrocity prevention. I discuss social psychological processes that are relevant within societies where mass atrocities do or may take place, as well as relevant processes in third-party or bystander nations. Because of the disciplinary focus of this chapter, it addresses primarily the role of individual group members in mass atrocities and their prevention.

Publication Title

Reconstructing Atrocity Prevention

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genocide, atrocities, social psychology