“Authority allows two roles: the torturer and the tortured” – V for Vendetta, Alan Moore.
A serious challenge to theories regarding human behaviour based upon the ground breaking Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments has been reported. Humans who choose to follow roles given them by authority figures actually relish the process more than was previously imagined, even when it involves gross acts of cruelty, according to The Telegraph:
Professor Stephen Reicher, Professor in the School of Psychology at the University of St Andrews, and Professor Alex Haslam of the University of Queensland, Australia, have published [a] paper in the journal PLos-Biology on the nature of tyranny and evil.
Professor Reicher said: “In short, people do harm not because they are unaware that they are doing wrong, but because they believe that they are doing right.
“It is this conviction that steels participants to do their dirty work, and that makes them act energetically and creatively to ensure its success.”
The study began when the two researchers ran their own prison experiment, which was broadcast by the BBC in 2002. This showed that people did not automatically slip into role.
They found the guards only acted tyrannically when they believed that harsh measures were necessary to create order.
More recently, Professors Reicher and Haslam have conducted a series of studies which revisit Milgram’s conclusions.
These show that people only go along with an authority when they believe that they are serving a greater good.
Paradoxically, they show that giving orders tends to undermine this belief and hence undermines obedience.
“Our own research shows that tyranny does not result from blind conformity to rules and roles, it is a creative act of followership that flows from identification with authorities who represent vicious acts as virtuous,” he said.
Professor Reicher added: “The fundamental point is that tyranny does not flourish because perpetrators are helpless and ignorant of their actions.
“It flourishes because they actively identify with those who promote vicious acts as virtuous.
Or, if you’d prefer to look at the original source, the findings are published on the PLOS Biology open access peer reviewed journal.