Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The psychology of evil

Gaining a new perspective on the roots of evil and its effects on society.

By Maria Lameiras, Emory Magazine

Psychology 341 is a new Emory course focused on the study of “evil” behavior. It includes critical analyses of the distinctions between normal human behavior, moral depravity and psychopathology. In addition to individual acts of evil, the class studies incidents of genocide, terrorism and torture. At the end of each session, to balance the heavy topic, students share “antidotes to evil,” including uplifting stories and videos, and offer ways individuals can combat evil.

“I was on the receiving end of an evil act. The person who committed it had no concern for my feelings,” says Patricia Brennan, the professor of psychology who teaches the course. “This was not something I had experienced before, and it made me want to do research to get to the root of evil behavior. That was my inspiration for this course.”

On the first day of the class last Maymester, students developed their own group definition for the topic: “Evil is defined as 
a selfish human act that defies situational expectations, is intended to harm, and is accompanied by a lack of remorse for actions.”

The class “is very relevant because there is evil all around us, whether we choose to observe it or not,” says Amrita Chatterjee, a senior majoring in business. “How we defined evil, and how we can prevent it, molded my perception of evil and how we can take it on as a societal issue.”

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