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Nov 15, 2012

The Psychology of Evil

Yes, you may call me "Dr. Evil"
PSYC 289E - The Psychology of Evil
The University of Maryland

Dr. Scott Roberts
Director of Instructional Excellent & Innovation, TLTC
Senior Lecture, Department of Psychology

Why is there evil in the world?  Are some born evil, or do social, environmental, and cultural forces create evil from "normal" people?  The scientific study of evil forces us to confront our own misconceptions, our own subconscious, and the psychological forces at play every day that shape behavior, good and evil alike.   To engage the field requires not only an integrated understanding of psychological theories and research findings, but also reflection on our own personal vulnerabilities to becoming a victim, or worse, a perpetrator.  How sure are you that you wouldn't do something evil?

Learning Outcomes
After successfully completing this course you will be able to:
  • Provide scientific evidence that evil has both physiological and social causes that interact with each other.
  • Analyze case studies of good and evil acts and explain the underlying psychological theories and research findings that inform your analysis.
  • Apply psychological principles to design and execute interventions to reduce evil and increase faith in humanity among strangers in your community.
As we work towards those broad outcomes you will learn to answer questions such as…
  • How do scientists conduct on the causes of evil?
  • What is the evidence that “normal” people have the capacity for evil behavior?
  • Why do we fail to offer help to others?  When is that evil?
  • Why do “good” people (like you) make “bad” decisions?
  • What makes people empathetic & trusting?
  • How can we reduce existing hatred and terrorism?
  • Could evolution have favored evil traits?
  • Do violent movies, songs and games cause evil behavior?
  • What makes someone become a psychopath?
  • Why do people commit mass murders?
The complete list of learning objectives is available here.

For a sample syllabus click here

For detailed information about course offerings visit the Schedule of Classes

Students do more than learn about evil, they apply their learning to combat it.  Read about how students in the course have not only learned about evil but did also did something to put more good into it: PSYC Major Does Good for Evil

Course is designated as both i-Series and Scholarship in Practice.  For more info visit

NOTE: This course, like all I-Series courses, is open to all majors and does not have a prerequisite.  PSYC majors may count this course as elective credit in the Social, Developmental & Organizational Studies theme.