5 Psychological Mechanisms that Allow People to Hurt Others

There are psychological mechanisms that allow people to hurt others.


There are psychological mechanisms that allow people to hurt others. They are sophisticated strategies that erect the behavior of evil, acts that outline a brain oriented to obtain benefits at the cost of hurting those who are close. Thus, and although it may be striking and even incomprehensible, some people even feel pleasure with this type of behavior.

Perverse acts exist. In addition, it is often said that the more intelligent a person is, the more twisted their behaviors can be when manipulating others, causing damage. Likewise, living in one’s skin some of these experiences after being a victim or reading about them, does not stop surprising us and, above all, of disturbing us.

It is assumed that the human being is, above all, a social being. As such, we should be more oriented towards cooperation, respect and harmony to guarantee the group’s well-being. However, as we know, this is not always the case. Albert Bandura, a professor at Stanford University and an expert in social psychology, points out something interesting.

People do not perform evil acts just because. The brain knows and understands when something is wrong. For that reason, and to dissuade this contradiction, it carries out a series of processes, psychological mechanisms to justify certain acts. Evil is instrumental, since you always expect to get something in return.

“Who with monsters struggle take care to become a monster in turn. When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks inside you.”

-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche-

5 psychological mechanisms that allow people to hurt others

The psychological mechanisms that allow people to hurt others have been studied by authors such as Bandura or Gianluca Gini. This same one carried out a study in 2016 in which a series of processes and mental strategies are detailed with which a person can end up justifying his harmful and adverse behavior.

1. Moral justification

As striking as it may seem to us, the villain always has a moral justification. We can see this, for example, in the jihadists. Thus, after its violent acts there is something more than mere hatred of the Western world. There is, undoubtedly, his religious and moral impulse, the need to obtain prestige in his community and the aspiration to become that mujahideen who, after losing his life, is praised by all.

Bandura also reminds us that at a given moment, and beyond the education received, most of us can carry out violent acts if we find a moral justification.

2. Displacement of responsibility

Another of the psychological mechanisms that allow people to hurt others is to place the burden of responsibility on someone else’s shoulders. “I’ve done this because I’ve been ordered, because someone asked me, because that’s what was expected of me.” All of these are arguments that reflect this diffusion of responsibility.

Face of two men symbolizing the psychological mechanisms that allow people to hurt others

3. Dehumanization

Dehumanization is, without doubt, one of the most fearsome psychological processes. It is that in which the person carries out a violent act because he does not see in the other a being that deserves respect. Dehumanize whoever is in front of him, sees him as an entity without capacity to feel, as someone who lacks rights, reason of being or existence.

We saw this during the Second World War with the holocaust and can also be seen in certain profiles of murderers or psychopaths.

4. Projection of the fault

“I’ve done it because he / she deserved it. I have acted in this way because they have provoked me, because they have threatened me, because I could not stand their behavior anymore… “. These situations make up one of the psychological mechanisms that allow people to hurt other more common ones.

Moreover, in the words of Francesc Torralba, PhD in Philosophy at the University of Barcelona, ​​evil is almost always reactive. That is, when a person understands that he has been offended, molested or attacked, he defends himself.

5. Distortion of consequences

The distortion of consequences shapes that behavior in which someone minimizes the effects of what happened. He distorts them in such a way that in his mind everything is justified. Meanwhile, the other person suffers the effect of that grievance, of that attack, of that abuse …


Psychological mechanisms that allow people to hurt others are based on very sophisticated cognitive processes. It is true that in many cases there is a pathological component behind that is summarized in a disorder or in the effect of a certain education. However, there are people whose behavior does not always respond to these factors.

The evil is real and has many faces. Let us learn to detect them and, first of all, as Nietzsche would say, not to become other monsters ourselves.