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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014

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Psychologists explore influences in Abu Ghraib scandal

When news broke about the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, many people questioned: Who could do such a thing? According to Princeton psychologists who reviewed decades worth of studies, the answer is: Anyone.

Writing in the Nov. 26 issue of Science, professor Susan Fiske and graduate students Lasana Harris and Amy Cuddy contend that many forms of behavior, including acts of great evil, are influenced as much by authority figures, peer pressure and other social interactions as by the psychology of the individual.

"Could any average 18-year-old have tortured these prisoners?" said Fiske. "I would have to answer, 'Yes, just about anyone could have -- unfortunately.'"

Fiske and colleagues drew their conclusions from 25,000 studies involving 8 million participants, which explain how factors, ranging from the stress of war to the expectations of superiors, can combine to cause ordinary people to commit seemingly inexplicable acts.

More details are available in a news release.

Contact: Lauren Robinson-Brown (609) 258-3601

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