How belief in pure evil relates to perceptions and punishments of gun violence perpetrators

November 7, 2017, Pennsylvania State University

The professional journal Personality and Individual Differences published an article co-authored by a Penn State Abington student and his faculty research partner.

Dominic Vasturia, senior in biology, and Russ Webster, assistant professor of psychology, developed "Demons with firepower: How belief in pure evil relates to perceptions and punishments of gun violence perpetrators" during a two-year undergraduate research collaboration.

Webster's research on the concept of pure evil dates back to 2011 when he developed a course, "The Psychology of Evil," as a . He taught the course twice at Abington.

"To our knowledge, we are actually the first researchers to successfully measure people's perceptions of whether pure evil actually exists. We are merely interested in how people's perceptions of human nature relates to how people approach the world," he said.

"This project provided me with invaluable experience, working both independently and with other researchers. Not many students have the opportunity to receive this first-hand experience of devising, carrying out a scientific study, and analyzing the data on a topic I was interested in and helped form," Vasturia said, calling Webster "a wonderful mentor."

Vasturia and Webster presented this research at the Association for Psychological Science conference in Chicago last year as well as at other professional meetings. The pair is working on publishing another paper based on their work for Vasturia's undergraduate research, known as the ACURA program at Abington.

Vasturia is applying to graduate school in neurobiology for the fall 2018 semester. Webster said undergraduate research is invaluable toward achieving that goal.

"Having conference presentations and a publication as an undergraduate is very attractive to any graduate program as it demonstrates advanced skills in communication and critical thinking," he said.

Explore further: Study finds those who believe in pure evil support more harsh criminal punishments

More information: Dominic Vasturia et al. Demons with firepower: How belief in pure evil relates to perceptions and punishments of gun violence perpetrators, Personality and Individual Differences (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2017.09.037

Related Stories

Researchers analyze juvenile delinquency, employment link

March 31, 2015

Marianna McBride said her "lightbulb moment" came last fall. The biosocial criminology course riveted her, and the Penn State Abington senior immediately knew this was the area she wanted to specialize in when she begins ...

Nanosensors could monitor health in real time

November 6, 2017

Public health organizations have long warned about the devastating potential of superbugs—bacteria that are immune to any existing antibiotics. If left unchecked, by 2050 these microorganisms could kill 10 million people ...

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...

7 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (1) Nov 07, 2017
The idea of pseudoscientists lending credibility to a religious term is to me some sort of evil.

What is the solution to evil? More prayer, more churchgoing?

The PROBLEM is psychopathy. Take away the guns and you still have the psychopath who will use any and all available means with which to do his work.

And you take away the only reliable means that good people have to protect them from psychopaths.

Psychopathy, unlike evil, is a physical aberration which can be studied scientifically. Science and medicine should begin finding ways of identifying psychopaths and protecting us from them.

This may be more difficult than it should be, given the high incidence of psychopathy within the medical and political spheres.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Nov 07, 2017
"The individuals who constitute this 4 percent drain our relationships, our bank accounts, our accomplishments, our self-esteem, our very peace on earth."

"One of the basic assumptions of psychotherapy is that the patient needs and wants help for distressing or painful psychological and emotional problems. The psychopath does not think that they have any psychological or emotional problems, and they see no reason to change their behavior to conform to standards with which they do not agree. They are well-satisfied with themselves and their inner landscape. They see nothing wrong with they way they think or act, and they never look back with regret or forward with concern. They perceive themselves as superior beings in a hostile world..."
https://www.cassi...path.htm
Eikka
1 / 5 (2) Nov 07, 2017
It seems to me, Otto, that you've invented a sort of pseudo-religion out of pop-psychology and labeled "psychopaths" as the root of all evil. You too seem to believe in the existence of pure evil - you simply have a different idea as to where it comes from.

For example, the descriptions you quote of psychopathy would apply to everyone who find themselves in disagreement with social norms, or basically everyone with any sort of independent thought or will. It applies to everyone to a degree, since nobody is perfectly conformist.

Incidentally, there's another type of people who have a curious lack of understanding of other minds, who assume that whatever they hold true or right must be so because they cannot adopt other points of view: they lack empathy. They find the world a baffling place because they cannot explain why it misbehaves, so they tend to explain it away with the presence of "pure evil" or "psychopaths" etc. rather than simply conflicts of interest.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Nov 07, 2017
you've invented a sort of pseudo-religion out of pop-psychology...You too seem to believe in the existence of pure evil
Well you seems wrong.

You dont know what psychopathy is?

"Psychopathy, sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy, is traditionally defined as a personality disorder[1] characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits."

-ie people who feel no emotion or empathy and enjoy inflicting suffering on others.

A textbook example in the news;

"Kelley initially faced multiple charges in his 2012 court-martial, according to records CNN reviewed. He was originally charged with assault and battery against his spouse, aggravated assault against his stepson

"Kelley admitted to hitting his stepson on the head... The injuries fractured the young boy's skull

"neighbor told police he saw him punch a dog... eventually pleaded guilty in October 2014 to an animal cruelty charge."
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Nov 07, 2017
Devin Patrick Kelley walked into a church last sunday and nonchalantly shot over 2 dozen people dead. His condition had been obvious. A reliable system of identifying, diagnosing, and restricting people like him would have averted that tragedy as well as the las vegas massacre and the Manhattan truck attack.

And why would you think I invented psychopathy?

""The World has only one problem, Psychopaths... The essential feature of Psychopaths is a Pervasive... desire to force their delusions on others. Psychopaths completely disregard and violate the Rights of others, particularly the Freedom of Association which includes the right not to associate and the Right to Love."
the descriptions you quote of psychopathy would apply to everyone who find themselves in disagreement with social norms, or basically everyone with any sort of independent thought or will
What makes you think free-thinkers typically have no empathy or emotion and enjoy victimizing others?
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Nov 07, 2017
Incidentally, there's another type of people who have a curious lack of understanding of other minds, who assume that whatever they hold true or right must be so because they cannot adopt other points of view: they lack empathy. They find the world a baffling place because they cannot explain why it misbehaves, so they tend to explain it away with the presence of "pure evil" or "psychopaths" etc. rather than simply conflicts of interest
... and who might that be?
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
not rated yet Nov 11, 2017
The best explanation of psychopath can be read if Googling for "By What a Human Being is Recognisable as a Psychopath"

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.