Psychological Self-Help

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38
Hating people for “no reason”
Powerful forces within a group increase the likelihood of aggression. We
feel compelled to believe and act the way our family or group does (see
conformity in chapter 8). We want to be liked by our ingroup. We are taught
to be obedient to authority. Finally, if being in a group relieves us of the
responsibility for our group's decisions and if we can act anonymously
(without being singled out and punished), we humans are very capable of
becoming dangerous and cruel. Every human being should be constantly
aware of the potential injustice and maliciousness that lurks within ourselves
and our groups. See the Milgram study in the next chapter or the Zimbardo
study below if you think I am exaggerating. 
In his famous "Prison Experiment," Zimbardo (1973) demonstrated how
ordinary, well-adjusted college students could transform themselves--with no
directions from authorities--in just six days into authoritarian, brutal, sadistic
"prison guards" who enjoyed their power to degrade and punish others. A
(http://www.zimbardo.com/), including pictures and a frank admission by the
principle investigator of how emotionally involved he became. In another
study, Zimbardo (1969) found that in secret normally "sweet, mild-mannered
college girls" shocked other girls almost every time they could. He concluded,
"it didn't matter that the fellow student was a nice girl who didn't deserve to
be hurt." 
It is not clear why we are or can be so cruel. In the Milgram study, cruelty
was encouraged by an authority, but this was not the case in the Zimbardo
studies. Likewise, Berkowitz (1983) believes violence comes from inside us,
not from group encouragement. The evidence suggests that we may be mean
by following the rules of a violent group or the orders of a violent person or
the urging of a violent feeling inside. 
Pain leads to aggression
If two animals are hurt when close to each other, they will frequently start
to fight. This is so common and occurs across so many species, the pain-
aggression connection may be unlearned. However, it is quite clear that past
learning experience can modify the response--many animals prefer to run or
to attack only under certain conditions (Berkowitz, 1983). Berkowitz suggests
that all kinds of unpleasant stimuli lumped together, not just pain or
frustration, give rise to impulsively aggressive tendencies in humans. An
amazing variety of events seem to increase our anger: foul odors, high room
temperatures, cigarette smoke, disgusting scenes, unpleasant interactions
with others, fear, depression, unattractiveness or handicaps in others,
expectation of pain, general discomfort, and merely thinking about punishing
someone. 
Even though cognition can stop an aggressive impulse (you don't punch
out your dentist), much of the connection between unpleasantness and
aggression escapes our awareness. We all experience pain, frustration, and
lots of unpleasant events and, presumably, as we suffer, we are inclined to be
indiscriminately aggressive. But we can recognize how unreasonable our
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