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Study: Suffering boosts anti-Semitism

Jan. 7, 2010 at 6:43 PM

BONN, Germany, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- German students said they became more anti-Semitic after reading about ongoing suffering brought on by the Holocaust, a university study found.

The 62 first-year psychology students had been given tests to determine if they were implicitly or explicitly anti-Semitic, psychologists Roland Imhoff and Rainer Banse of the University of Bonn said in a study published in the journal Psychological Science.

After three months, the students returned for formal testing.

They first read about Nazi German atrocities against Jews at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.

Half read a version that concluded the tragedy had "no direct implications for Jews today," while the others read a version that said, "Even today, Jews suffer because of secondary traumatization."

The students then completed the same questionnaire they completed three months earlier.

Half the students had electrodes attached to their ring and middle fingers, which they were told were attached to a lie detector.

The students who didn't wear the devices said the ongoing Jewish suffering increased their empathy and reduced their anti-Semitism.

But for the students connected to the "lie detectors," the ongoing-suffering story significantly increased their anti-Semitic attitudes, the study found.

Imhoff and Banse offered several theories to explain the behavior. For example, guilt may trigger a "defensive anti-Semitism," Spirituality & Health magazine reported.

Or belief in a "just world" may cause people to think atrocities must be the victims' own fault, the magazine said.

Imhoff and Banse concluded that while it may appear logical to emphasize victim suffering "to evoke sympathetic reactions and reduce prejudice," such strategies "may be counterproductive in many settings."

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