Methods for the study of evil-doing actions

Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 1999;3(3):269-75. doi: 10.1207/s15327957pspr0303_9.


For obvious ethical reasons, experimental studies of severe harm-doing actions are precluded. What methods are available to experimental social psychologists for the study of harm- and evil-doing activities? Three are suggested: experiments that may have a component of role-playing but still can illuminate nodes in the socialization into harm-doing process, probes into the conceptual world of individuals who are enlisted into real-world harm-doing socialization processes, and secondary analyses of case studies written by those who have been caught up in harm doing. The methodological limits of each activity are examined, and it is argued that an approach in which combinations of methods are employed to arrive at theoretical constructions can both support generalizations that provide insights into the socialization process and be sufficiently rigorous to support prudent social action recommendations.