Aggression/Conformity within the military

Justa query really as I was unsure where to look/who to ask.

I am studying forms of aggression; social and biological explanations in Psychology.

I'm going down the 'conformity' route, especially experiments such as the 'Stanford Prison Experiment'. Just for example, I have taken an extract from my current essay;

Zimbardo's two sexual preference experiments showed aggressive behaviors, out lining them for the female and male genders. First was the Stanford prison experiments in 1971; 24 male undergraduate students were selected to role play prison guards or prisoners. The select men were physically and mentally healthy, with no history of crime or violence. The outcome showed that young adult males selected as Prison Guards (they wore uniforms and given darks shades to hide their eyes), started to conform and take on a more realistic role, resorting to bullying and aggression towards participating prisoners. This is an example of male testosterone taking over and forming a conformed group but does it show that good people can turn evil?

The experiment was cancelled only after 6 days of it running, due to the psychological effects of the experiment on the participants and the psychological scars it could have caused if it was left to continue the full 14 days as planned. In 2004, Zimbardo made a comparison of his prison experiment to the Abu Ghraib trial. This lead to Zimbardo writing The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.

Later on, Zimbardo carried out an experiment with only females. Taking Milgrim's classic electric-shock experiment and using it to test the opposite gender to the Standford Prison experiment. Some of the female participants where unaware that this study was fake, other females were working as confederates in the experiment (meaning they knew what the study was about). Some of the participants wore their own clothes which revealed their own identity; others wore white cloaks and hoods, thus hiding their own identity. In this study, it was found that when a female's identity was covered up (white cloaks and hoods), they would give a much higher level of electric shock to the receiving participant. This had shown that a participant's identity had been desensitized and deindividuationed, had given them the freedom to act more aggressive towards another person, than they may have done, if their real identity was made known.

Both of Zimbardo's experiments with genders showed a clear pattern that when a person's personal identity had been hidden, it desensitizes them into a false security. This would mean that a person could act unruly and more aggressive, if their identity is not known. However, Cambell and Muncer believed that women viewed their aggression tendencies to come from excessive stress and loss of their self control. Equally, they suggested that men view aggression as a functional interpersonal act when confronted or challenged of their self-esteem and integrity.

Is a person more likely to participate/conform in a group and lose their sense of self as an individual, so that they may be socially accepted? Research over the years seems to back this theory, especially if that person's identifying features are hidden from others. Organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, who wear robes and hoods to hide themselves, are a good example of deindividuation. You could also classed the Military into this category, their service personnel place a uniform on and immediately they have to obey a higher figure, even if it meant them conducting a practice that they do not personally agree with.
What I am trying to find is any other Psychological experiment conducted with the military, when it comes to aggression/conformity.. Any country will do, as there is an ethnic venue I will be taking too.

I thought this was the best place to ask.


War Hero
You may well want to consider "controlled aggression" within the military. The examples of being provoked and refraining from violence are endless.

I've been trying to think of helpful suggestions but can't come up with much at the moment, just off the top of my head stuff.

My first thought was as to whether there was any scope in your work for the inclusion of Hannah Arendt and the concept of "The Banality of Evil" but that is not really relevant ........ but it did set me thinking in the direction of the Wehrmacht and made me wonder whether there might be anything out there on which you could draw; I can't see how one can escape the reality of Aggression/Conformity within that particular military arena when that arena, itself, was engulfed by social and political structures which themselves were almost the very definition of Aggression and Conformity.

A quick find was this but not sure about whether it will help you:
Conformity in the Armed Forces whoda thunk it!! :lol:
Use of Psychology in the Military is certainly documented in the book 'The Men who stare at goats' Jon Ronson (2004) is a wizard wheeze of a read about, amongst other things, a US Army psych warfare unit who explored the usage of paranormal forces in warfare, by staring at goats in an attempt to kill them.
The use of recordings of Barney the Dinosaur songs as a method of softening up Iraqi/Terrorist suspects is also covered. 8O
Mad as a box of frogs if you ask me.
Personally I believe most Military Training relies heavily on psychological pressures on Recruits to get the Training Teams desired result.
Peer pressure, encouraged by TTs, to conform/perform to a given standard is a well known use of even passive aggression in this type of setting.
You could also look for studies carried out in such countries as South Africa, Argentina and Chile where the members of those nations Armed Forces carried out acts of torture and/or murder in the belief that they were doing their 'duty'.
Good hunting.

If you haven't already done so, you might want to get hold of "On The Psychology of Military Incompetence" by Norman Dixon (ISBN 0-7126-5889-0).

Although originally published in the 1970s, it has been updated several times and a lot of the theory is still relevant such as the organisational factors that make people do things they wouldn't normally do, why individuals conform, why certain types are attracted to the military etc etc.



War Hero
I can recommend Lt Col Dave Grossmen's two books "On Killing" and "On Combat". Both should be required reading for all SR and Officers in my opinion but there you go. Both cover the areas of killing to demand and how conditioning and muscle memory plays a greater part than some form of in built desire, so to speak. Very good reads and as said recommend to all.
You may already have read this book, but if not I believe it would be very helpful in your on-going studies in this area:
On Killing: Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
by Dave Grossman
ISBN-10: 0316330116
ISBN-13: 978-0316330114

Edit- beat me to it GUNS
The day I was sectioned ( arrested about 1730 ) I had marched around doing left/right inclined whenever peeps got in my way assuming I was totaly invincible because of my forces training. Imagined I had S_S clones watching my back the whole time so picked fights with anyone who looked at me ''in a funny way'', the landlady of my local called the plod before I could do anymore damage. Funnily enough I had only had one pint that day, was high as a fcuking kite on adrenalin.

Some argue that mentally ill peeps have clouded memories, not so in my case, crystal clear. Did my forces experience make me mentally ill/aggressive ?, no it was the shed loads of beer that nuked all my good brain cells.
The Criminal History Of Mankind - Author; Colin Wilson.


Colin Wilson tells the story of human violence from Peking Man to the Mafia - taking into account the calculated sadism of the Assyrians, the opportunism of the Greek pirates, the brutality that made Rome the ‘razor king of the Mediterranean’, the mindless destruction of the Vandals, the mass slaughter of Genghis Khan, Tamurlane, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler and more. Each age has a unique characteristic pattern of crime. In the past three centuries crime has changed and evolved until the sex killer and the mass murderer have become symbols of all that is worst about our civilization. But this is not just a study in human depravity; it is an attempt to place crime in perspective against human discovery, exploration and invention. The result is a completely new approach to the history and psychology of human violence.


You might also try this link to the psychology of the My Lai Massacre v Obedience to Authority >



War Hero
Book Reviewer
Bergen, many of these ancient peoples had no cultural reason NOT to behave like that. I remenber reading someone's reminiscences of Papua in which he brought a tribal bod from the mountains down to Port Moresby and this chap couldn't understand why we didn't just kill anyone who got in our way (and maybe eat them, but he didn;t say that). The idea that each individual human life is of equal value is rather a modern idea. A Roman could quite lawfully kill his slave; the Old Testament has long rigmaroles about indiscriminate slaughter of anyone with a different point of view. How concentration camp guards in what had been allegedly a Christian country for hundreds of years could sing Christmas carols while their victims suffered is a different question, the same one as Ourador, Lt Calley/My Lai etc.


War Hero
Jenny_Dabber said:
This is an example of male testosterone taking over and forming a conformed group but does it show that good people can turn evil?
Is it? Are you saying that men are more likely to conform with behaviour which would normally be considered unacceptable because of their testosterone levels? I'm not sure you are but that's how it reads; there is no evidence in Zimbardo's experiments to suggest this as the male and female experiments were gender isolated and non-comparable, Asch's experiments on conformity suggest that in fact women are far more likely to conform with group behaviour than men especially when they are overtly observed.

The point about conformity has little to do with good and evil which is essentially a different issue, after all what are good and evil? We conform to certain behaviours because that is what we accept as normal and believe to be "good", behaviour outside the norm could be considered as simply eccentric, it only becomes "evil" when it is defined as such by the group, conformity is by definition conforming to "normal" behaviour not a morally measured one such as "good" or "evil" Objectively "evil" behaviour can subjectively be considered good and our perception of what is good or bad can change rapidly if the change is to our benefit (we are without exception selfish, that's why humanity is so successful, almost everything we do is seated in personal or social benefit with very few exceptions) - just read Lord OF The Flies for an example.

I'd suggest you look at something like the Milgram Experiment which (at least in part) tried to investigate the psychological mindset of concentration camp guards and why they willingly carried out authority led atrocities.


Lantern Swinger
It would be interesting to read the psychological profiles of the good men of the USA who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bet they'd be an eyeopener..
Chief, that was a small part of an essay I wrote, which got graded as an A..............after 9 pages :cry:

There are many critisms of Zimbardo's experiments, I'm not niave to think there are not. Many Psychology experiments hold faults. Aggression, there is not one true joint categorization of an explanation to it, reason why there are so many 'theories'.

Thanks everyone, will have a read up on it all. Knew I could count on the brains of RR to giude me :wink:
Dicky said:
It would be interesting to read the psychological profiles of the good men of the USA who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bet they'd be an eyeopener..
Tibbets in Enola Gay and Bock in Bock's Car.

When I was a kid we had a school visit from the British observer Gp-Capt Leonard Cheshire........ he was a monk by then and had a face like death.