The Evolution of Caring and Nonaggressive Persons and Societies


  • Ervin Staub

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    1. University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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      ERVIN STAUB is Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He studied in Budapest, Vienna, at the University of Minnesota, and received his Ph.D. from Stanford University. Since the 1960s he has conducted research and written a two-volume book on the social, personality, and developmental origins and correlates of helping and altruism. More recently, he has tried to understand genocide, war, and torture. His book, The Roots of Evil: The Psychological and Cultural Origins of Genocide explores the sources of war and ways to reduce group violence.

Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003.


This article explores ways to shape individual personalities, societies, and the relations among them, with the ultimate aim of diminishing inter group hostility and war. The evolution described in the article requires committed individuals and groups to work for change. Certain human proclivities, such as us-them differentiation, the devaluation of outgroups, and stereotyping are sources of intergroup hostility. Socialization practices by parents and schools that promote positive connection to and caring about people are described, as well as ways to bring about their use. Parent training and family system diagnoses can impart awareness and skills and influence parental attitudes. On a societal level, institutions and culture can be shaped by creating systems of positive reciprocity among groups, by cross-cutting relations among members of different groups, and by other steps along the continuum of benevolence.