Dealing with Dispositional and Situational Evil

02.10.2020 |

Episode #10 of the course Psychology of evil by Psychology Insights Online


Welcome to the final lecture in this course on the psychology of evil!

So far, we have discussed several dispositional personality traits contained within the Dark Triad and Dark Tetrad that are linked to deviant or outright evil behavior. We have also covered situational influences on behavior such as Realistic Group Conflict Theory, deindividuation, conformity, and obedience. Now that we have a better understanding of what these influences are, what can we do to avoid becoming a victim?

First, let’s consider what it means to score high on the Dark Tetrad or to be diagnosed with a personality disorder such as Antisocial Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. That is if someone is a narcissist or a psychopath, are they resigned to this fate, or can they change?

In order to experience a meaningful improvement in these traits, a person has to want to change. However, many people high on Dark Tetrad traits don’t believe they have a problem; therefore, they don’t seek out professional help. That said, certain forms of psychotherapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy have shown some promise for managing these traits in people willing to undergo treatment. Unfortunately, available treatment options often fail to help in the more extreme cases such as clinical psychopathy in adults. Instead, interventions often focus on helping children who display worrying symptoms before they get worse.

As was mentioned in previous lessons, if you are dealing with a high Mach, narcissist, psychopath, or sadist, you need to protect yourself. Do not assume that they will change or that you can do anything to change them. The chances are high that they won’t. Instead, focus your efforts on avoiding them where possible or building a firewall around yourself if you can’t avoid them. Set firm boundaries, take precautions, and find allies to help you avoid becoming a victim.

What can be done to reduce conflict between groups? Recall from the lecture on group conflict, hatred and discrimination toward outgroups can result from competition, especially over resources. In the Robber’s Cave Experiment, Muzafer Sherif was able to reduce animosity between the “Rattlers” and “Eagles” through cooperation and working towards a superordinate goal. Psychologist Gordon Allport extensively studied ways to reduce conflict and proposed the contact hypothesis. He suggested that conflict and prejudice can be reduced through contact between groups, but only when four conditions are met:

• The equal status between groups.

• Personal interactions between group members.

• Non-competitive cooperative activities.

• The development of social norms which promote positive interactions between groups.

How can we minimize the influence of deindividuation? In the lecture on deindividuation, we discussed how individuals can lose their sense of self when they are in a crowd. This experience can be positive, for instance, when people feel the need to help out with prosocial behavior (e.g., volunteering in a group); however, it is often linked to anti-social behavior such as rioting. A few things that can be done in advance to lessen deindividuation in groups would include:

• Decreasing the likelihood that people in a group will be anonymous.

• Ensuring individual accountability for behavior in a group.

• Increasing self-awareness so that people are more cognizant of their own actions.

• Changing social norms to encourage individuals to speak up.

How can we reduce conformity and obedience? In the lesson on conformity and obedience, we discussed how the presence of other people, and especially an authority figure, can result in good people committing evil acts. Building on Milgram’s findings, psychologists have identified ways to reduce potentially harmful obedience:

• Understanding that these powerful forces to obey exist. Research suggests that when students learn of the Milgram studies, they are less likely to blindly obey orders in their own life.

• Modeling a non-obedient person. In Asch’s and Milgram’s studies, as well as in real-life examples, having one dissenter stand up to the authority figure significantly increases the chances of other people disobeying as well.

• Understanding the extent of the other person’s suffering. Harmful obedience is more likely to occur if the perpetrator is unaware of the victims’ suffering, and this is especially the case if they are physically removed from them (e.g., being in a different room, city, country, etc.). Being more aware of others will increase our sympathy for their plight.

Congratulations! You have reached the end of this Highbrow course on the Psychology of Evil. I really hoped that you enjoyed it and will find some of the information you learned to be useful in your own life. Thank you for taking this course!


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