Does resistance to immoral orders increase in the aftermath of a genocide? A social neuroscience study in Rwanda
Emilie Caspar, PhD (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Abstract. The history of Mankind is plagued by acts of obedience that lead to the loss of countless lives, cultures and civilizations. History has fortunately shown that some individuals do resist the social constraint of receiving orders when their own morality is of greater importance than the social costs associated with defying orders (Roisin, 2017). While experimental approaches in this area of research are almost entirely based on the paradigm on Stanley Milgram, we developed a novel, and ethical paradigm, in which participants were ordered to inflict a real, painful electric shock to another individual (=immoral orders). We compared a group of participants tested in Rwanda to a group of participants tested in Belgium. We hypothesized that the family traumatic experience of Rwandese due the 1994 genocide would make them less submissive to those immoral orders. We also investigated how different factors, including the neural processing of pain, the sense of agency, self-reported personality traits and social identification to the experimenter, modulated compliance to those orders. Results indicated that compliance was higher in the group tested in Rwanda than in the group tested in Belgium. Results also indicated that the best predictive factors for resistance to immoral orders were the neural processing of pain and one’s own relationship to authority. Those results open new paths for interdisciplinary field research dedicated to the study of obedience.
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