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Tuesday, June 27, 2023

All human social groups are human, but some are more human than others

Morehouse, K. N., Maddox, K. B., & 
Banaji, M. R. (2023). PNAS.
120(22), e2300995120. 


All human groups are equally human, but are they automatically represented as such? Harnessing data from 61,377 participants across 13 experiments (six primary and seven supplemental), a sharp dissociation between implicit and explicit measures emerged. Despite explicitly affirming the equal humanity of all racial/ethnic groups, White participants consistently associated Human (relative to Animal) more with White than Black, Hispanic, and Asian groups on Implicit Association Tests (IATs; experiments 1–4). This effect emerged across diverse representations of Animal that varied in valence (pets, farm animals, wild animals, and vermin; experiments 1–2). Non-White participants showed no such Human=Own Group bias (e.g., Black participants on a White–Black/Human–Animal IAT). However, when the test included two outgroups (e.g., Asian participants on a White–Black/Human–Animal IAT), non-White participants displayed Human=White associations. The overall effect was largely invariant across demographic variations in age, religion, and education but did vary by political ideology and gender, with self-identified conservatives and men displaying stronger Human=White associations (experiment 3). Using a variance decomposition method, experiment 4 showed that the Human=White effect cannot be attributed to valence alone; the semantic meaning of Human and Animal accounted for a unique proportion of variance. Similarly, the effect persisted even when Human was contrasted with positive attributes (e.g., God, Gods, and Dessert; experiment 5a). Experiments 5a-b clarified the primacy of Human=White rather than Animal=Black associations. Together, these experiments document a factually erroneous but robust Human=Own Group implicit stereotype among US White participants (and globally), with suggestive evidence of its presence in other socially dominant groups.


All humans belong to the species Homo sapiens. Yet, throughout history, humans have breathed life into the Orwellian adage that “All [humans] are equal, but some [humans] are more equal than others.” Here, participants staunchly rejected this adage, with the overwhelming majority of over 61,000 participants reporting that all humans are equally human. However, across 13 experiments, US White participants (and White participants abroad) showed robust evidence of an implicit Human=Own Group association. Conversely, Black, Latinx, and Asian participants in the United States did not demonstrate this bias. These results highlight the tendency among socially dominant groups to reserve the quality Human for their own kind, producing, even in the 21st century, the age-old error of pseudospeciation.

My summary:

These results suggest that US White participants implicitly view White people as more human than Black or Hispanic people.

The authors also found that these implicit associations were not simply a reflection of participants' explicit beliefs about race. In fact, when participants were asked to explicitly rate how human they believed different racial/ethnic groups were, they rated all groups as equally human. This suggests that implicit associations are not always accessible to conscious awareness, and that they can have a significant impact on our behavior even when we are unaware of them.

The authors conclude that their findings suggest that implicit bias against Black and Hispanic people is widespread in the United States. They argue that this bias can have a number of negative consequences, including discrimination in employment, housing, and education. They also suggest that interventions to reduce implicit bias are needed to create a more just and equitable society.

Said slightly differently, the Dominant Group's "myside bias" is implicit, autonomic, unconsious, and difficult to change.  White dominant culture needs to take extra steps to level the playing field of our society.