Nazi prison camp chiefs not just 'followed orders' but 'took pride in what they were doing'
Nazi concentration camp bosses, who claimed they were just 'following orders,' truly believed in what they were doing, researchers have said.
Landmark studies on human behaviour in the 1960s and 1970s had founded the theory that people carried out evil act because they naturally followed orders from figures of authority.
Scottish psychologists have, however, challenged the fifty-year-old findings after going back and re-examining the original experiments, the Daily Mail reports.
Professor Stephen Reicher of the University of St Andrews and Professor Alex Haslam of the University of Queensland, Australia, began their research 10 years ago with a prison study.
They found that volunteers given the role of 'guards' only acted brutally when they identified with their role and believed their actions were necessary to maintain control, the report said.
In a series of more recent experiments, they found that people bow down to authority only if they believe it is necessary to serve a greater good.
"Our own research shows that tyranny does not result from blind conformity to rules and roles, it is a creative act of followership that flows from identification with authorities who represent vicious acts as virtuous," Professor Haslam said.
"A series of thoroughgoing historical examinations have challenged the idea that Nazi bureaucrats were ever simply following orders," both researchers added.
"This may have been the defence they relied upon when seeking to minimize their culpability, but evidence suggests that functionaries like Eichmann (hanged in 1962 for his role in organising the Holocaust) had a very good understanding of what they were doing and took pride in the energy and application that they brought to their work," they said.
Reicher and Haslam said that there is a 'believed morality' behind people's actions.
"In short, people do harm not because they are unaware that they are doing wrong, but because they believe that they are doing right," Professor Reicher said.
"The fundamental point is that tyranny does not flourish because perpetrators are helpless and ignorant of their actions," he said.
"It flourishes because they actively identify with those who promote vicious acts as virtuous,' he added.