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Chelsea Russell…read more

Slide 2

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Obedience to authority in a prison
· The behaviour of military personnel during the Iraq conflict,
specifically the breach of human rights for Iraqi prisoners of war held
at the US run Abu Ghraib prison.
· During the summer of 2004, a series of photographs detailing US
military personnel abusing, torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners
was published in the worlds press.
· International outcry followed and soldiers involved were investigated
and court-martialled.
· Eleven junior ranking soldiers were convicted of abuse and
dereliction of duty but no officers were found guilty of abuse and
only two were convicted of dereliction of duty.
· At the trial, two basic arguments were put forward:
1. The accused were `corrupt cops' who tormented prisoners for fun
(the personality side of the debate about influences on behaviour)
2. The accused were only obeying orders given by senior officers
(the situationist side of the debate about influences on behaviour).
This was the case for defence.…read more

Slide 3

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Explaining the issue.
· The defence lawyers for the accused argued that they were not bad
people but rather that they were in a situation that had led to their
· The soldiers argued that they did not have autonomy in their
decisions about dealing with the prisoners, that they were following
orders and that abuse of prisoners was policy in order to `break the
prisoners' down for interrogation.
· It could be argued that the soldiers operated in an agentic state to
carry out the orders ­ both implicit and explicit ­ of their superiors.
In that case, responsibility for their actions lay with the authority that
required the action and not the person actually committing it.
· This argument is consistent with Milgrams agency theory. The
soldiers behaviour does show similarity with Milgrams research
participants who also obeyed orders and harmed other people.
· There were clear in and out groups, one of which (the US soldiers)
had all the power.…read more

Slide 4

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Explaining the issue continued...
· The US soldiers would identify with their in-group which had a
prevailing culture of mistreating the out-group. In order to establish
their social identity they accepted the group norms as standard and
abused the prisoners.
· Studies such as those by Tajfel (1971) and Sherif (1961) show that
once you identify with a group you are much more willing to promote
their interests over that of an out-group. In a war situation, where
the out-group is a known enemy, this effect would be exacerbated
and the behaviour towards the out-group would be much worse.
· There was very little evidence that there were direct orders to
mistreat the prisoners in this way (hence the officers only being
convicted of dereliction of duty e.g. neglect)
· Not every guard engaged in the mistreatment. Indeed one of them,
Joe Darby, `blew the whistle' on his colleagues by making the
photos which were private to the group, public knowledge. This
shows that there was room for autonomous action even in the high
pressure setting of a prison during a war.…read more

Slide 5

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Summary of the issue.
· It seems that there is no simple explanation for such
complex events.
· However explanations from social psychology do provide
insights that are useful in understanding the
circumstances that surround behaviour of this sort.
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib documentary:
·…read more

Slide 6

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Football crowd violence.
· Social identity theory proposes that we identify with an in-
group, in this case being a follower of a particular team.
· We then categorise other football fans as being members
of our in-group (same team) or our out-group (rival team).
We wear scarves and strips that reflect our group
· In order to boost the social identity of the group ­ and
therefore to boost our own sense of self ­ we actively
deride the out-group in order to make a favourable
comparison with our in-group.
· In some people, caught up in excitement of the match,
this may go too far and lead to football hooliganism.…read more


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