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The study of group psychology is literally what its name suggests, the study of how groups intentionally or unintentionally influence individuals who are in the presence or members of groups. We can’t leave a course on the psychology of terrorism without examining this important area of research, because historically nothing has proven as powerful in shaping human behavior. We are group beings. We live, work and play with and among others. Although professional ethics won’t allow researchers to attempt to discern the influences that groups exert on human behavior by experimentally isolating individuals from the moment of birth and across their lifetimes, a number of landmark research efforts have given us insight into the reactions of individuals in group settings.
Before participating in this week’s discussion, you must access the following:
This site contains a video interview of Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, a social psychologist world-renown for his groundbreaking study of group impact, the Stanford Prison Study. NOTE: This video was taped in the 1990s in Zimbardo’s home. What he has to say is as relevant today as it was then but the sound quality isn’t the best. When I watch this video I have to turn my laptop volume up to the highest level. Also, you may notice that Dr. Z appears to be bragging at the beginning of the video about his professional accomplishments, but what you can’t hear is that prior to the start of the tape Dr. Z was asked to summarize his professional activities during 50 years as a professor and research scientist at Stanford University. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to fast-forward through the first few minutes, but I suppose after five decades as one of the foremost contributors to our understanding of social psychology and group dynamics he is due his few minutes of fame.
This is a description, written about Yale University psychologist, Stanley Milgram (1974), of his 1951 landmark study of the behavioral choices people make while being told what to do by others in positions of authority.
As you access the above two web sources, keep in mind that there was nothing unique or even unusual about the individuals who volunteered to participate in these studies; in fact, the volunteers did not know before signing up to participate what the research involved. The Stanford Prison Study volunteers believed they couldn’t leave until the study was complete; the Milgram Obedience Study volunteers were not told they had to stay.
This is a CBS 60 Minutes video about the Supermax prison in Colorado where all of the convicted terrorists in the U.S. are housed. Once the weblink opens, select the second video from the left, titled “A Clean Version of Hell” (I’m sure the “Blackwater” video may also draw your attention-also an interesting segment, but not applicable to this topic).
Once you have viewed these three web links, submit a post by Wednesday that pulls together at least two common threads found across all three and use them to articulate your understanding of possible origins of terrorists’ actions. NOTE: The sources aren’t intended to explain all terrorist motivations or choices. They illuminate, as have all our other readings to date, some elements of the psychology of terrorism. You job here is to tease from them common themes that inform our understanding of it.
300 word minimum
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