Social Psychology

Tutorial 2:
Social Psychology of Genocide

Last updated:
02 Aug 2005


  • The goal of this tutorial is to develop a social psychological understanding of genocide, an extreme group behaviour which involves many aspects of social psychological phenomena such as prejudice, discrimination, aggression, altruism, and inter-group behavior.

About the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

  • During the genocide in Rwanda over one million people were systematically slaughtered in three months.  That's the equivalent of approximately three September 11 incidents occurring every day for three months.
  • Timeline: 100 days of genocide
    (BBC News, 6 April, 2004)
    Between April and July, 1994, over one million people died as a result of an attempt at ethnic cleansing in Rwanda.  This brief article summarizes some key dates in the events that unfolded.  Note that estimates of how many people died vary, depending on the source.

  • The Rwandan genocide can be viewed and understood as a real-world, major social event which illustrates many aspects of social psychology.

Ghosts of Rwanda (PBS, 2004)

  • This 10th anniversary American documentary and accompanying website tells the harrowing story of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.  It includes interviews with several key figures, including government officials, diplomats, and eyewitnesses accounts.  During the course of the documentary almost every social psychological principle is revealed in one form or another, although it is not specifically framed in social psychological terms.  Warning: This documentary contains disturbing emotional and graphic content.  For example, you will see dead bodies in various states of mutilation and decomposition, although it is probably the interviews and human stories that are the most emotionally disturbing.
    (Available in 3 hour loan - DT450.435.B37 2004 dvd)

Dealing with graphic content

  • Students will be likely to be left emotionally drained and disturbed from viewing this movie and its potential effects should not be taken likely.  Some amount of post-traumatic reaction is normal and expected, e.g., crying during and afterwards is common.
  • There are potentially traumatising effects of watching graphic content about genocide.  Look after yourself by:
    • Read about the genocide beforehand and prepare yourself emotionally
    • Attendance is voluntary.
    • You may not want to sit through the entire movie.  Feel free to leave and please respect anyone's decision to do so as a sign of emotional maturity and self-care, not weakness.
    • Process your emotional reactions.  e.g., discuss with other students (e.g., via WebCT bulletin-board).
  • If you are concerned about your level of reaction, notify the convenor and consider discussing with student counselling or a mental health professional.

Key learning exercise

  • Individually create a list and take notes on the instances of social psychological phenomenon that you observe to be involved in the Rwandan genocide and related events.  Even if you don't know the formal name of a phenomenon, note and describe it.
  • In the next tutorial, the class will collate their observations and develop a collective understanding of the Rwandan genocide as a social psychological phenomenon.