CONTEMPT FOR THE VICTIM
THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY of humanity, religious, gender, and racial minorities have often been regarded as subhuman by those in power. They have been labeled as “gooks,” “savages,” “cockroaches,” and worse. When we dehumanize others we lose our empathy toward them and see them as objects without hopes or feelings.1 When we lose our empathy for others it is easier to harm them without feeling guilt.
An ingenious experiment was conducted by Albert Bandura at Stanford University in 1975. (This study is the same experiment as the one cited in the section “lost in the Group.” here we’re emphasizing results not written about in this earlier section.) Each time the experiment was run, a group of three subjects played the role of “supervisors.” the task of the subject-supervisors was to “punish” a small group of decision makers—located in an adjacent room—by shocking them when they made poor decisions. (The decision makers didn’t really exist.)
After explaining the purpose of the experiment, the researcher left the subject-supervisors, telling them he was going to the adjacent room where the decision makers were and that he would further communicate via intercom. Later the subject-supervisors heard the experimenter over the intercom make a descriptive comment about the decision makers to his lab assistant after “accidentally” leaving his microphone on.