Edexcel AS Psychology - Social - Key Issue: Abu Ghraib

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  • Created by: Ally
  • Created on: 13-03-12 11:43

Abu Ghraib


The issue we are dealing with is the prison abuse that was suffered by Iraqi prisoners of war, inflicted by American military police personnel who were acting as prison guards. The American soldiers took pictures of themselves abusing the prisoners; the media got a hold of these images and published them all across America and the world. The reaction from the American public was one of outrage, sadness and what I believe to be shock. How could their ‘superheroes’ transition from these influential figures to the barbaric animals we saw in the Abu Ghraib prison? Psychology is the study of human behaviour and the mind, so maybe the answer into why these events occurred lie there. These events are like gold dust to social psychologists, many of the events are similar to experiments carried out by psychologists, such as Zimbardo’s famous Stanford prison experiment so it’s only natural for social psychologists to want to evaluate and pick apart what happened and why – so that they can further develop the understanding of social psychology . Furthermore, there are various theories that psychologists have proposed into why we follow people’s orders or why there’s conflict between groups or people. This is a major issue for society because it demonstrates how seemingly ‘normal’ people can just transform into these monsters who are capable of carrying out viscous acts of abuse towards other humans – more importantly it’s possible for any stable-minded person to be able to carry out these acts if the specific social situation is correct, which is a problem for society as whole; more and more things like Abu Ghraib may happen in the future and more often. Additionally, if it can be proven that horrific acts like Abu Ghraib can be carried out by just about anyone under the right circumstances then society and the way law and justice are carried out will have to be changed because this would have been proven to be natural behaviour which we might have no control over – how can we enforce harsh justice for acts of behaviour that we have no control over?  

One social psychological explanation for the Abu Ghraib prison events is Henri Tajfel’s social identity theory (1970)



A summary of the atrocities that happened in Abu Ghraib and social psychological explanations for them.  Very useful, thank you!

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