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Who will act badly in toxic situations?

Donald Dutton (Department of Psychology, University of British, Columbia, Canada)
Christie Tetreault (Department of Psychology, University of British, Columbia, Canada)

Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research

ISSN: 1759-6599

Article publication date: 20 April 2009

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Abstract

We examine whether individual differences exist in reactions to toxic situations, reviewing historical examples of massacres. The social psychological research on the question consists of the famous Milgram experiment on obedience and the Stanford Prison Experiment. Although these studies show the power of situations in eliciting aggression towards targets, they overlook an essential aspect of real world behaviours ‐ the innovation of imaginative sadistic sequences that go beyond the orders given. We argue that analogue studies are too limited to capture these situations and that social psychological research has been too limited in its assessment of key relevant individual traits, one of which is a potential for sadism. Furthermore, we raise concerns about whether ‘snapshot’ analogue research can capture the transitional processes central to an understanding of real world reactions to toxicity.

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Citation

Dutton, D. and Tetreault, C. (2009), "Who will act badly in toxic situations?", Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 45-57. https://doi.org/10.1108/17596599200900006

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited