ERVIN STAUB studied in Budapest, Vienna, at the University of Minnesota, and received his doctorate at Stanford University. He is Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a prior appointment at Harvard, and visiting appointments at Stanford, the University of Hawaii, and The London School of Economics and Political Science. He has conducted research on the social, personality, and developmental origins and correlates of helping and altruism, and has written a two-volume book entitled Positive Social Behavior and Morality. A more recent focus of his work is group violence, explored at length in his book, The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence.
Moral Exclusion, Personal Goal Theory, and Extreme Destructiveness
Article first published online: 14 APR 2010
1990 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
Journal of Social Issues
Volume 46, Issue 1, pages 47–64, Spring 1990
How to Cite
Staub, E. (1990), Moral Exclusion, Personal Goal Theory, and Extreme Destructiveness. Journal of Social Issues, 46: 47–64. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1990.tb00271.x
- Issue published online: 14 APR 2010
- Article first published online: 14 APR 2010
The article describes how certain motives can combine with the exclusion of people from the moral universe, leading to torture, genocide, and mass killing. Personal goal theory is presented as a framework. Personal goals and moral values have ranges of applicability from which certain groups may be excluded. When there is conflict between goals and values, stringent moral values can be replaced by others that allow harm doing—a process termed moral equilibration. The psychological and motivational sources of exclusion include devaluation of groups, just-world thinking, self-distancing by euphemisms or by an objectifying perceptual stance that reduces empathy, and ideologies that identify enemies. Certain cultural characteristics create a predisposition for group violence. Together with intensely difficult life conditions, they give rise to powerful motives and lead to ways of fulfilling them that turn the group against a subgroup of society. As they harm their victims, the perpetrators and the whole society change, progressing along a continuum of destruction that can end in genocide. Bystanders often encourage perpetrators, and they themselves are changed as they passively face the suffering of victims. However, bystanders also have great potential power to inhibit the evolution of increasing destructiveness.