Social Psychological Applications

Bosnia Genocide - Pamela Castañeda


Milgram conducted an obedience study which concluded that people tend to follow an authority figure and justify their actions leaving the responsibility to their leader.

Serbian soldiers were obedient to their extremely nationalist leader Slobodan Milosevic (Serbian president) to start war on the countries around them that had large Serbian communities, especially Bosnia. They were obeying the rules to “ethnically cleanse” Bosnian towns and “safe areas”.

The Power of Individuals

The power of individuals: the control, power, leadership a person has in front of a group. Ratko Mladic directed Serbian troops (the VRS) into attacking and killing thousands of Bosnians. A whole genocide occurred under the power of one individual.
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Prejudice is an unjustified opinion (usually negative) towards someone or a group of people, often based on their gender, ethnicity, religion, social classes, etc. The Bosnian Serbs were against the Bosnian Muslims just because they were a smaller population. The Serbs acted with prejudice towards them, although their judgement wasn't from anything personal, their ethnicity and religion made them hate each other.


A stereotype is a belief or opinion developed about someone based on their ways of doing things or of them being part of a certain group or identity. The stereotypes in the Bosnian genocide were that the Serbs were “superior” and the Muslims were not worthy of their land.


Whenever there is a problem, people tend to blame it on someone else or on something else as to avoid having to deal with the problem themselves.

The UN and the United States used “ethnic cleansing” as an excuse for the genocide in Bosnia, instead of recognizing what was happening was an actual genocide by the Serbs.

Social Inequalities

Social inequality includes all the unequal opportunities and rewards for different social statuses or classes within a population. In the Bosnia genocide, the Muslims were on the lowest level of the social inequality that took place at that time. The Serbs were the majority and had the most power during the genocide, so obviously they treated the Muslims extremely poorly.

Social Identity Theory

The social identity theory states that a person has a sense of who they are based on them being part of a group.

The Serbs attacking the Bosnians identified them with the “Greater Serbs”, they felt like they belonged to that group which compelled them to attack the Muslim Bosnians.

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In-groups and Out-groups

People define themselves in terms of social groupings, the group that someone identifies with is an in-group. Those who aren't part of their in-group is part of the out-group (any group that is not their group). People tend to belittle people from out-groups just because they're not from the same group. The Serbs had their own in-group

The Ingroup in the Bosniak genocide was the Serbs, since they were the ones with more privileges and the majority. The outgroups were the Mulsim Bosniaks

Agency Theory

The agency theory states that people will be obedient to a leader when the leader will take responsibility for their actions. The Serbian soldiers killed thousands of men and boys on behalf of the "Greater Serbs" and under the orders of Ratko Mladic, so when one thinks of who committed the genocide, one thinks of Ratko Mladic and the "Greater Serbs", not about every single soldier who participated.

Milgram’s research

Milgram's studies demonstrated that ordinary people can follow authority even to the point of killing someone without questioning authority's power. For the “Greater Serbia”, the Serbs killed thousands of Bosniaks (just by following orders).

Sheriff’s research

The Sheriff research suggests that people in different groups competing don't hate each other but act like it because of their competition. The Bosniak Serbs and the Bosniaks hated each other because they were competing and fighting for their land and their lives.

Reicher and Haslem’s research

This research suggests that two groups will show resistance to each other and that is why they will move towards tyranny. This can be seen in the Bosnian genocide when the Bosnians resisted the Serbs so the Serbs invaded.

Zimbardo’s Research

Zimbardo’s research demonstrated that people will act according to the roles they have. For example, the Bosnian Serbs took the role of oppressor, they were influenced by their uniforms and surroundings; the Bosnians took their role of being the weaker side.

Asch’s research

Asch’s research suggests that people will do or say wrongful things just to fit in or be accepted. For example, Serbian soldiers probably felt like they shouldn’t be killing so many people, but because all of them were killing innocent people, they felt like they had to do it too.

Latane & Darley’s Research

The Bystander effect demonstrates that most of the time, bystanders won’t help a victim in need of help, most of the time they will just observe and move on. When the Bosniak genocide was happening, the UN refused to intervene even though they knew exactly what was happening. The United States avoided the subject by calling the genocide “ethnic cleansing” instead of what it really was.

Hofling’s research

Hofling’s research suggests that people won’t question authority even when they should or they have a good reason to question it. For example Bosnian Serbs followed orders from Ratko Mladic although they didn’t necessarily know exactly what they were doing.

I would like to point out that Bosnian Croats, which were mostly Catholic, were attacked as well, but not massacred and persecuted as the Bosnian Muslims, which were "cleared" from entire towns, such as Srebrenica. That is why I did not mention the Croat in this flyer.