Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar

Academics

FYS Section A23. On Becoming Evil

In this course, we will consider how people become evil. We will begin by examining the definition of the term “evil” and whether evil is part of an individual’s disposition or whether any person can become capable of evil actions under the influence of powerful social forces. We will discuss classic studies in social psychology, such as Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) and Milgram’s Obedience Experiment, as well as contemporary theories, which shed light on how normal individuals can be convinced to carry out horrible acts. We will then move the discussion toward current events. What are the factors that increase the likelihood of evil acts, such as torture, terrorism, genocide, war crimes, and domestic violence? Finally, we will end on a hopeful note by examining some pro-social behaviors, such as helping. That is, why do some individuals manage to resist pressures to behave in anti-social ways and instead act heroically?

Gail SaharGail Sahar
Professor of Psychology