Detailed Biographical note
I am Professor of Psychology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Founding Director of its Ph.D. concentration in the Psychology of Peace and Violence. I was born in Hungary, where as a young child I lived through Nazism, and then communism. I escaped from there when I was 18 years old after the Hungarian revolution of 1956 was defeated, lived in Vienna for two years, and then came to the U.S. I finished my undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota and received my Ph.D. at Stanford. I taught at Harvard and was visiting professor at Stanford, the University of Hawaii and the London School of Economic and Political Science.
I have studied the influences that lead to caring, helpful, altruistic behavior and moral courage in children and adults, and their development in children. Having studied both “active bystandership,” and passivity in the face of people in need, I turned to a focus on perpetration. I studied the social conditions, culture, psychology of individuals and groups, and social processes that lead to mass violence, especially genocide and mass killing, but also violent conflict, terrorism and torture. I studied how such violence progressively evolves, and the role of passive bystanders in allowing the unfolding of violence. Increasingly I focused on understanding how violence between groups can be prevented, as well as how hostile groups can reconcile, especially in post-conflict settings after violence between them. I also studied and worked on facilitating positive group relations. I have been concerned with how active bystandership in the service of prevention of harmful behavior and reconciliation can be promoted.
My books include the two volume Positive social behavior and morality (Volume 1, Social and Personal influence, 1978; Volume 2, Socialization and development, 1979); The roots of evil: The origins of genocide and other group violence (1989); The psychology of good and evil: Why children, adults and groups help and harm others (2003); Overcoming evil: Genocide, violent conflict and terrorism (2011); and edited or co edited several books (see Vita), including Patriotism in the lives of individuals and nations (1997). In 2015 I published The roots of goodness: Inclusive caring, moral courage, altruism born of suffering, active bystandership and heroism. New York: Oxford University Press. I have also written many articles and many books chapters for edited books, and blogs on several blog sites, including Psychology Today and Huffington Post.
I have worked on varied projects in field settings, their approach primarily based on my research (See Staub, 2018, in Vita). I developed a training program for the State of California after the Rodney King incident to reduce the use of unnecessary force by police, by training police officers to be active bystanders who prevent or stop unnecessary harmful behavior by fellow officers. Since 2015 I have been collaborating in developing and using a version of this program by the New Orleans police department. It has very positive effects, and media attention and articles about it in police Journals led to conferences in New Orleans in 2018 and 2019 with leaders of police departments around the country who expressed interest in introducing it in their departments. Other projects included teacher training to create classrooms that help children become caring and non-violent; a project in Amsterdam to improve Dutch-Muslim relations after significant violence there; a project in New Orleans to promote healing and reconciliation in the wake of Katrina; and a Training Active Bystanders project in Western Massachusetts to train students in schools in active bystandership in the face of harmful behavior by their peers towards other peers. A curriculum of this training is available on this website (https://people.umass.edu/estaub/)
Starting in 1999 I have conducted workshops/trainings in Rwanda, together with Laurie Anne Pearlman and both U.S. and Rwandan assistants, for the staff of organizations that work in the community, with national leaders, with people in the media, and others. In collaboration with Radio LaBenevolencija of Amsterdam, using the approach we had developed for our trainings, we created a variety of educational radio programs, both informational programs and radio dramas. An educational radio drama which began to broadcast in 2004 in Rwanda is still ongoing, as is a radio drama in Burundi that began to broadcast in 2006. Another of our radio dramas, in the Congo (DRC) stopped broadcasting in 2016 after 11 years. The aim of this work has been to promote healing, reconciliation, and help prevent new violence and/or stop ongoing violence, and help people impacted by violence lead better lives. This work has been supported by a variety of funders, to Laurie Pearlman and me, and to Radio LaBenevolencija. In 2007 the Rwandan radio projects won the Human Rights & Accountability award that was launched by the UN for the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights.
I also served as an expert witness in violence related cases, for example, at the Abu Ghraib trials. I lectured widely on topics related to my work in academic, public, and government settings in the U.S. and other countries (see Vita on the website).
I am past President of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence: Peace Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and of the International Society for Political Psychology. I received varied awards, which include the Otto Klineberg Intercultural and International Prize of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, both in 1990 and 2018; the Life-time Contributions to Peace Psychology Award of the Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence: Peace Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association; the Nevitt Sanford Award for Professional Contributions to Political Psychology and the Harold Lasswell award for scientific contributions to the field of Political Psychology from the International Society for Political Psychology; the Outstanding Achievement Award of the Armenian American Society for Studies on Stress & Genocide; the Jean Meyer award for outstanding leadership from Tufts University; the Max Hayward Award from the American Orthopsychiatric Association for distinguished scholarship in the mental health disciplines that contributes to the elimination of genocide and the remembrance of the Holocaust; the Frank Ochberg Award for Media and Trauma from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies; the Chancellor’s Medal from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; co-recipient with Dr. Laurie Anne Pearlman of the Headington Institute’s Award of Recognition for dedication and commitment to peace, justice and reconciliation in 2009; the recipient of the 2011 Morton Deutsch Award for Distinguished Scholarly and Practical Contributions to Social Justice from the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Columbia University; received the 2011 Psychologists for Social Responsibility Anthony J. Marsella Prize for the Psychology of Peace and Social Justice, for “many decades of academic scholarship and groundbreaking fieldwork addressing issues of helping and altruism, bystander behavior, raising caring and nonviolent children, and the prevention of genocide.” Received the Kurt Lewin award in 2019 of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues “for outstanding contributions to the development and integration of psychological research and social action.” My book, Overcoming Evil has received awards both from the International Society for Political Psychology, and from the International Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association.
My work has been reported in many newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, U.S. World and News Report, Oprah Magazine as well as foreign newspapers and magazines, and in appearances on many radio programs, including NPRs All Things considered, Morning Edition, Top of the Nation and regional syndicated programs, and many television programs including NBC and ABC Evening News, 20/20, the BBC, the Discovery Channel, PBS and others. The roots of evil inspired a three part television series, also called The roots of evil, shown on television in England, the Discovery Channel in the US, and in some other countries around the world.