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Showing posts with label Dehumanization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dehumanization. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Dehumanization: Beyond the Intergroup to the Interpersonal

Karantzas, G. C., Simpson, J. A., & Haslam, N. (2023).
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 0(0).


Over the past two decades, there has been a significant shift in how dehumanization is conceptualized and studied. This shift has broadened the construct from the blatant denial of humanness to groups to include more subtle dehumanization within people’s interpersonal relationships. In this article, we focus on conceptual and empirical advances in the study of dehumanization in interpersonal relationships, with a particular focus on dehumanizing behaviors. In the first section, we describe the concept of interpersonal dehumanization. In the second section, we review social cognitive and behavioral research into interpersonal dehumanization. Within this section, we place special emphasis on the conceptualization and measurement of dehumanizing behaviors. We then propose a conceptual model of interpersonal dehumanization to guide future research. While doing so, we provide a novel review and integration of cutting-edge research on interpersonal dehumanization.


This review shines a spotlight on interpersonal dehumanization, with a specific emphasis on dehumanizing behaviors. Our review highlights that interpersonal dehumanization is a rapidly expanding and innovative field of research. It provides a clearer understanding of the current and emerging directions of research investigating how even subtle forms of negative behavior may, at times, thwart social connection and human bonding. It also provides a theoretical platform for scholars to launch new streams of research on interpersonal dehumanization processes and outcomes.

My summary

Traditionally, dehumanization has been studied in the context of intergroup conflict and prejudice, where individuals or groups are perceived as less human than others. However, recent research has demonstrated that dehumanization can also manifest in interpersonal interactions, affecting how individuals perceive, treat, and interact with each other.

The article argues that interpersonal dehumanization is a prevalent and impactful phenomenon that can have significant consequences for both individuals and relationships. It can lead to reduced empathy, increased hostility, and justification for aggression and violence.

The authors propose a conceptual model of interpersonal dehumanization that identifies three key components:

Dehumanizing Cognitions & Perceptions: The tendency to view others as less human-like, lacking essential human qualities like emotions, thoughts, and feelings.

Dehumanizing Behaviors: Actions or expressions that convey a disregard for another's humanity, such as insults, mockery, or exclusion.

Dehumanizing Consequences: The negative effects of dehumanization on individuals and relationships, including reduced empathy, increased hostility, and justification for aggression.

By understanding the mechanisms and consequences of interpersonal dehumanization, we can better address its prevalence and mitigate its harmful effects. The article concludes by emphasizing the importance of fostering empathy, promoting inclusive environments, and encouraging respectful interactions to combat dehumanization and promote healthy interpersonal relationships.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Reducing Explicit Blatant Dehumanization by Correcting Exaggerated Meta-Perceptions

Landry, A. P., Schooler, J. W., Willer, R., 
& Seli, P. (2022). 
Social Psychological and Personality Science.


If explicitly, blatantly dehumanizing a group of people—overtly characterizing them as less than human—facilitates harming them, then reversing this process is paramount. Addressing dehumanization among American political partisans appears especially crucial, given that it has been linked to their anti-democratic hostility. Perhaps because of its overt nature, partisans recognize—and greatly exaggerate—the extent to which out-partisans explicitly, blatantly dehumanize them. Past research has found that when people perceive they are dehumanized by an outgroup (i.e., meta-dehumanization), they respond with reciprocal dehumanization. Therefore, we reasoned that partisans’ dehumanization could be reduced by correcting their exaggerated meta-dehumanization. Indeed, across three preregistered studies (N = 4,154), an intervention correcting American partisans’ exaggerated meta-dehumanization reduced their own dehumanization of out-partisans. This decreased dehumanization persisted at a 1-week follow-up and predicted downstream reductions in partisans’ anti-democratic hostility, suggesting that correcting exaggerated meta-dehumanization can durably mitigate the dark specter of dehumanization.


Explicit blatant dehumanization continues to mar contemporary intergroup relations (Kteily & Landry, 2022). For instance, a troubling number of American partisans explicitly, blatantly dehumanize one another, which has been linked to their anti-democratic hostility (e.g., Moore-Berg et al., 2020). We sought to reduce partisan dehumanization by integrating research demonstrating that (a) individuals who think an outgroup dehumanizes their own group (i.e., meta-dehumanization) respond with reciprocal dehumanization (Kteily et al., 2016; Landry, Ihm & Schooler, 2022) and (b) individuals attribute overly-negative attitudes to outgroup members (Lees & Cikara, 2021). We developed an intervention informing American partisans of their tendency to overestimate how much they are dehumanized by out-partisans (Landry, Ihm, Kwit & Schooler, 2021; Moore-Berg et al., 2020). This reduced partisans’ own dehumanization of out-partisans across three studies–an effect that persisted at a 1-week follow-up.

Correcting partisans’ meta-dehumanization also produced modest—yet reliable—reductions in their anti-democratic hostility. This is notable given recent work finding that interventions reducing negative affect do not influence anti-democratic attitudes (Broockman et al., 2020; Voelkel et al., 2021). Perhaps our dehumanization-focused intervention reduced anti-democratic attitudes when affect-focused interventions did not because dehumanization is more strongly linked to anti-democratic attitudes. Indeed, we observed particularly strong indirect effects of the intervention on reduced anti-democratic spite through dehumanization (average ╬▓indirect = −.23, compared to an average ╬▓indirect = −.03 for negative affect; see also Landry, Ihm & Schooler, 2022). Although experimental tests of mediation are needed to confirm this cross-sectional indirect effect, future work attempting to bolster support for democratic norms should consider the promise of targeting dehumanization.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

No convincing evidence outgroups are denied uniquely human characteristics: Distinguishing intergroup preference from trait-based dehumanization

F. E. Enock, J. C. Flavell. et al. (2021).
Volume 212, July 2021, 104682


According to the dual model, outgroup members can be dehumanized by being thought to possess uniquely and characteristically human traits to a lesser extent than ingroup members. However, previous research on this topic has tended to investigate the attribution of human traits that are socially desirable in nature such as warmth, civility and rationality. As a result, it has not yet been possible to determine whether this form of dehumanization is distinct from intergroup preference and stereotyping. We first establish that participants associate undesirable (e.g., corrupt, jealous) as well as desirable (e.g., open-minded, generous) traits with humans. We then go on to show that participants tend to attribute desirable human traits more strongly to ingroup members but undesirable human traits more strongly to outgroup members. This pattern holds across three different intergroup contexts for which dehumanization effects have previously been reported: political opponents, immigrants and criminals. Taken together, these studies cast doubt on the claim that a trait-based account of representing others as ‘less human’ holds value in the study of intergroup bias.


•  The dual model predicts outgroups are attributed human traits to a lesser extent.

•  To date, predominantly desirable traits have been investigated, creating a confound.

•  We test attributions of desirable and undesirable human traits to social groups.

•  Attributions of undesirable human traits were stronger for outgroups than ingroups.

•  We find no support for the predictions of the dual model of dehumanization.

From the General Discussion

The dual model argues that there are two sense of humanness: human uniqueness and human nature. Uniquely human traits can be summarised as civility, refinement, moral sensibility, rationality, and maturity. Human nature traits can be summarised as emotional responsiveness, interpersonal warmth, cognitive openness, agency, and depth (Haslam, 2006). However, the traits that supposedly characterise ‘humanness’ within this model are broadly socially desirable (Over, 2020a; Over, 2020b). We showed that people also associate some undesirable traits with the concept ‘human’. As well as considering humans to be refined and cultured, people also consider humans to be corrupt, selfish and cruel.

Results from our pretest provided us with grounds for re-examining predictions made by the dual model of dehumanization about the nature of intergroup bias in trait attributions. The dual model account holds that lesser attribution of human specific traits to outgroup members represents a psychological process of dehumanization that is separable from ingroup preference. However, as the human specific attributes summarised by the model are positive and socially desirable, it is possible that previous findings are better explained in terms of ingroup preference, the process of attributing positive qualities to ingroup members to a greater extent than to outgroup members.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Dehumanization: trends, insights, and challenges

N. S. Kteily and A. P. Landry
Trends in Cognitive Sciences
Available online 15 January 2022


Despite our many differences, one superordinate category we all belong to is ‘humans’. To strip away or overlook others’ humanity, then, is to mark them as ‘other’ and, typically, ‘less than’. We review growing evidence revealing how and why we subtly disregard the humanity of those around us. We then highlight new research suggesting that we continue to blatantly dehumanize certain groups, overtly likening them to animals, with important implications for intergroup hostility. We discuss advances in understanding the experience of being dehumanized and novel interventions to mitigate dehumanization, address the conceptual boundaries of dehumanization, and consider recent accounts challenging the importance of dehumanization and its role in intergroup violence. Finally, we present an agenda of outstanding questions to propel dehumanization research forward.


To deny or overlook the humanity of others is to exclude them from one of the core category memberships that all people share. Still, research suggests that individuals engage in dehumanization surprisingly often, both in subtle ways and, in certain contexts, by blatantly associating other groups with ‘lower’ animals.

We review evidence highlighting the plethora of distinct ways in which we dehumanize, the consequences dehumanization imposes on its targets, and intervention efforts to alleviate dehumanization.

We provide a framework to think about different operationalizations of dehumanization and consider how researchers’ definitions of dehumanization may shape the conclusions they draw about key questions such as the association between dehumanization and violence.

We address a number of theoretical challenges to dehumanization research and lay out several important questions dehumanization researchers need to address in order to propel the field further forward.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Threat Rejection Fuels Political Dehumanization

Kubin, E., Kachanoff, F., & Gray, K. 
(2021, December 4).


Americans disagree about many things, including what threats are most pressing. We suggest people morally condemn and dehumanize opponents when they are perceived as rejecting the existence or severity of important perceived threats. We explore perceived “threat rejection” across five studies (N=2,404) both in the real-world COVID-19 pandemic and in novel contexts. Americans morally condemned and dehumanized policy opponents when they seemed to reject realistic group threats (e.g., threat to the physical health or resources of the group). Believing opponents rejected symbolic group threats (e.g., to collective identity) was not reliably linked to condemnation and dehumanization. Importantly, the political dehumanization caused by perceived threat rejection can be soothed with a “threat acknowledgement” intervention.

General Discussion 

Does perceived threat rejection sow political divisions? Results suggest perceiving the “other side” as rejecting realistic (more than symbolic) threat increases moral condemnation and dehumanization, lending support to the asymmetry hypothesis. DuringCOVID-19, those who relatively favored social distancing saw opponents as rejecting realistic threats and morally judged and dehumanized them. In contrast, support for social distancing did not reliably relate to perceiving the other side as rejecting symbolic threat—and symbolic threat was not robustly associated with moral judgment or dehumanization.

Within a novel threat context, people who were more willing to sacrifice their group’s culture to prevent realistic threats to health or resources viewed opponents as rejecting realistic threats and in turn morally condemned and dehumanized them. Similarly, people who were more willing to endure realistic threat to protect their culture, viewed opponents as rejecting symbolic threats, in turn morally condemning and dehumanizing them, yet these effects were significantly weaker than for realistic threat rejection. Our findings are consistent with research suggesting people condemn behaviors which are perceived as causing concrete (realistic) harm rather than abstract (symbolic) harm (Schein & Gray 2018).

Using a threat-acknowledgement-intervention, we decreased the tendency of people who tended to prioritize protecting the group from realistic threat (i.e., those who tended to support social distancing)to morally judge and dehumanize opponents who prioritized protecting the group from symbolic threat (i.e., those who tended to resist social distancing). Our intervention did not require opponents to compromise their stance –this intervention worked by simply having opponents acknowledge both realistic and symbolic threats when providing a rationale for their position. 

Note: Helpful research when working with politically intense patients who frequently bring in partisan information to discuss in psychotherapy.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Intergroup preference, not dehumanization, explains social biases in emotion attribution

F. Enoch, S. P. Tipper, & H. Over
Volume 216, November 2021, 104865


Psychological models can only help improve intergroup relations if they accurately characterise the mechanisms underlying social biases. The claim that outgroups suffer dehumanization is near ubiquitous in the social sciences. We challenge the most prominent psychological model of dehumanization - infrahumanization theory - which holds outgroup members are subtly dehumanized by being denied human emotions. We examine the theory across seven intergroup contexts in thirteen pre-registered and highly powered experiments (N = 1690). We find outgroup members are not denied uniquely human emotions relative to ingroup members. Rather, they are ascribed prosocial emotions to a lesser extent but antisocial emotions to a greater extent. Apparent evidence for infrahumanization is better explained by ingroup preference, outgroup derogation and stereotyping. Infrahumanization theory may obscure more than it reveals about intergroup bias.


• Infrahumanization theory predicts outgroups are often denied uniquely human emotions.

• However, to date, antisocial uniquely human emotions have not been investigated.

• We test attributions of prosocial and antisocial emotions to social groups.

• Attributions of antisocial human emotions were stronger for outgroups than ingroups.

• We find no support for the predictions of infrahumanization theory.

From the General Discussion

Our results dovetail with recent empirical work that challenges the predictions made by Haslam's (2006) dual model of dehumanization (Enock et al., 2021). This research showed that when undesirable human-specific characteristics (such as ‘corrupt’ and ‘selfish’) are included in overall measures of humanness, there is no evidence for either animalistic or mechanistic dehumanization of outgroups as characterised by the dual model. Rather, desirable human qualities are more strongly attributed to ingroup members and undesirable human qualities to outgroup members. The present work extends these findings by further demonstrating the importance of considering sociality confounds when measuring psychological processes of ‘dehumanization’, this time through another highly prominent framework within the field.

During the review process, it was put to us that because dimensions of valence and sociality correlate highly in our pretest, the two constructs are “indistinguishable”, thus rendering our critique obsolete. We believe this represents a misunderstanding. Height and weight are strongly positively correlated, yet they are distinct constructs. Similarly, even though emotions that are generally perceived as prosocial may also perceived as positive to experience, and emotions that are generally perceived as antisocial may also be perceived as negative to experience, the two constructs are clearly conceptually distinct. While sadness is negative to experience, it is not inherently antisocial in character. Schadenfreude on the other hand is, by definition, positive to experience but antisocial in character.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Reducing the uncanny valley by dehumanizing humanoid robots

Yam, K.C., Bigman, Y., & Gray, K.
Computers in Human Behavior
Volume 125, December 2021, 106945


Humanoid robots are often experienced as unnerving, a psychological phenomenon called the “uncanny valley.” Past work reveals that humanlike robots are unnerving in part because they are ascribed humanlike feelings. We leverage this past work to provide a potential solution to the uncanny valley. Three studies reveal that “dehumanizing” humanoid robots—stripping robots of their apparent capacity for feelings—can significantly reduce the uncanny valley. Participants high on trait dehumanization (Study 1) or experimentally instructed to dehumanize (Study 2) reported lower feelings of uncanniness when viewing a humanoid robot, an effect mediated by reduced perceptions of feelings. We replicate these effects in an experimental field study where hotel guests interacted with real humanoid robots in Japan, and reveal that dehumanization reduces the uncanny valley without decreasing customers’ satisfaction (Study 3).


• The uncanny valley can be mitigated by a dehumanization manipulation.

• This effect is mediated by reduced experience perceptions.

• This simple manipulation can improve user experience of humanoid robots.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Partisan Schadenfreude and the Demand for Candidate Cruelty

Webster, S.W., Glynn, A.N., & Motta, M. P.
Unpublished Manuscript
July 2021


We establish the prevalence of partisan schadenfreude—that is, taking “joy in the suffering” of partisan others. Analyzing attitudes on health care, taxation, climate change, and the coronavirus pandemic, we find that a sizable portion of the American mass public engages in partisan schadenfreude and that these attitudes are most commonly expressed by the most ideologically extreme Americans. Additionally, we provide evidence of the demand for candidate cruelty, finding a sizable portion of the American public to be more likely than not to vote for candidates who promise to pass policies that “disproportionately harm” supporters of the opposing political party. Finally, we demonstrate that partisan schadenfreude is highly predictive of this likelihood to vote for cruel candidates and much more predictive of this likelihood than strong partisanship or ideological extremity. In sum, our results suggest that partisan schadenfreude is widespread and has disturbing implications for American political behavior.


American politics is increasingly divisive. While such a claim is relatively undisputed, few have attempted to study how those divisions psychologically motivate extreme and punitive forms of political participation. In this study we have taken an important first step in this regard. Utilizing a series of novel datasets measuring the political attitudes of thousands of Americans, we have shown that a significant portion of the mass public is prone to engaging in what we have called partisan schadenfreude, or taking “joy in the suffering” of partisan others.

We have also demonstrated that Americans express a preference for candidate cruelty. Specifically, our results suggest that a significant portion—over one-third—of the mass public is willing to vote for a candidate of unknown ideological leanings who promises to pass policies that “disproportionately harm” supporters of the opposing political party. Together, these findings help resolve uncertainty about whether the public passively accepts politicians who espouse punitive policies and rhetoric, or actively demands them. We find that Americans actively demand candidate cruelty, and that this demand is highest among those who exhibit the greatest amount of partisan schadenfreude.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Hostile and benevolent sexism: The differential roles of human supremacy beliefs, women’s connection to nature, and the dehumanization of women

Salmen, A., & Dhont, K. (2020). 
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations. 


Scholars have long argued that sexism is partly rooted in dominance motives over animals and nature, with women being perceived as more animal-like and more closely connected to nature than men. Yet systematic research investigating these associations is currently lacking. Five studies (N = 2,409) consistently show that stronger beliefs in human supremacy over animals and nature were related to heightened hostile and benevolent sexism. Furthermore, perceiving women as more closely connected to nature than men was particularly associated with higher benevolent sexism, whereas subtle dehumanization of women was uniquely associated with higher hostile sexism. Blatant dehumanization predicted both types of sexism. Studies 3 and 4 highlight the roles of social dominance orientation and benevolent beliefs about nature underpinning these associations, while Study 5 demonstrates the implications for individuals’ acceptance of rape myths and policies restricting pregnant women’s freedom. Taken together, our findings reveal the psychological connections between gender relations and human–animal relations.

Implications and Conclusions

Scholars have argued that in order to effectively combat oppression, different forms of prejudice cannot be seen in isolation, but their interdependency needs to be understood (Adams, 1990/2015; 1994/2018; Adams & Gruen, 2014; C. A. MacKinnon, 2004). Based on the present findings, it can be argued that the objectification of women in campaigns to promote animal rights not only expresses sexist messages, but may be ineffective in addressing animal suffering (see also Bongiorno et al., 2013). Indeed, it may reinforce superiority beliefs in both human intergroup and human–animal relations. Along similar lines, our findings raise important questions regarding the frequent use of media images depicting women in an animalistic way or together with images of nature (e.g., Adams, 1990/2015; Plous & Neptune, 1997; Reynolds & Haslam, 2011). Through strengthening the association of women with animals and nature, exposure to these images might increase and maintain benevolent and hostile sexism.

Taken together, by showing that the way people think about animals is associated with exploitative views about women, our findings move beyond traditional psychological theorizing on gender-based bias and provide empirical support for the ideas of feminist scholars that, on a psychological level, systems of oppression and exploitation of women and animals are closely connected.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

‘They’re Not True Humans’: Beliefs About Moral Character Drive Categorical Denials of Humanity

Phillips, B. (2021, May 29). 


In examining the cognitive processes that drive dehumanization, laboratory-based research has focused on non-categorical denials of humanity. Here, we examine the conditions under which people are willing to categorically deny that someone else is human. In doing so, we argue that people harbor a dual character concept of humanity. Research has found that dual character concepts have two independent sets of criteria for their application, one of which is normative. Across four experiments, we found evidence that people deploy one criterion according to which being human is a matter of being a Homo sapiens; as well as a normative criterion according to which being human is a matter of possessing a deep-seated commitment to do the morally right thing. Importantly, we found that people are willing to affirm that someone is human in the species sense, but deny that they are human in the normative sense, and vice versa. These findings suggest that categorical denials of humanity are not confined to extreme cases outside the laboratory. They also suggest a solution to “the paradox of dehumanization.”


6.2.The paradox of dehumanization 

The findings reported here also suggest a solution to the paradox of dehumanization. Recall that in paradigmatic cases of dehumanization, such as the Holocaust, the perpetrators tend to attribute certain uniquely human traits to their victims. For example, the Nazis frequently characterized Jewish people as criminals and traitors. They also treated them as moral agents, and subjected them to severe forms of punishment and humiliation (see Gutman and Berenbaum, 1998). Criminality, treachery, and moral agency are not capacities that we tend to attribute to nonhuman animals.  Thus, can we really say that the Nazis thought of their victims as nonhuman? In responding to this paradox, some theorists have suggested that the perpetrators in these paradigmatic cases do not, in fact, think of their victims as nonhuman(see Appiah, 2008; Bloom, 2017; Manne, 2016, 2018, chapter 5; Over, 2020; Rai et al., 2017).Other theorists have suggested that the perpetrators harbor inconsistent representations of their victims, simultaneously thinking of them as both human and subhuman (Smith, 2016, 2020).Our findings suggest a third possibility: namely, that the perpetrators harbor a dual character concept of humanity, categorizing their victims as human in one sense, but denying that they are human in another sense. For example, it is true that theNazis attributed certain uniquely human traits to their victims, such as criminality. However, when categorizing their victims as evil criminals, the Nazis may have been thinking of them as nonhuman in the normative sense, while recognizing them as human in the species sense (for a relevant discussion, see Steizinger, 2018). This squares away with the fact that when the Nazis likened Jewish people to certain animals, such as rats, this often took on a moralizing tone. For example, in an antisemitic book entitled The Eternal Jew (Nachfolger, 1937), Jewish neighborhoods in Berlin were described as “breeding grounds of criminal and political vermin.” Similarly, when the Nazis referred toJews as “subhumans,” they often characterized them as bad moral agents. For example, as was mentioned above, Goebbels described Bolshevism as “the declaration of war by Jewish-led international subhumans against culture itself.”Similarly, in one 1943 Nazi pamphlet, Marxist values are described as appealing to subhumans, while liberalist values are described as “allowing the triumph of subhumans” (Anonymous, 1943, chapter 1).

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Target Dehumanization May Influence Decision Difficulty and Response Patterns for Moral Dilemmas

Bai, H., et al. (2021, February 25). 


Past research on moral dilemmas has thoroughly investigated the roles of personality and situational variables, but the role of targets in moral dilemmas has been relatively neglected. This paper presents findings from four experiments that manipulate the perceived dehumanization of targets in moral dilemmas. Studies 1, 2 and 4 suggest that dehumanized targets may render the decision easier, and with less emotion. Findings from Studies 1 and 3, though not Studies 2 and 4, show that dehumanization of targets in dilemmas may lead participants to make less deontological judgments. Study 3, but not Study 4, suggests that it is potentially because dehumanization has an effect on reducing deontological, but not utilitarian judgments. Though the patterns are somewhat inconsistent across studies, overall, results suggest that targets’ dehumanization can play a role in how people make their decisions in moral dilemmas.

General Discussion

Together, the four studies described in this paper contribute to the literature by providing evidence that the dehumanization of targets may play an important role in how people make decisions in moral dilemmas. In particular, we found some evidence in Studies 1, 2 and 4 suggesting that dehumanized targets may affect how people experience their decisions, rendering the decisions easier and less emotional. We also found some evidence from Studies 1 and 3, though not Studies 2 and 4, that dehumanization of targets in dilemmas may affect what decision people eventually make, suggesting that dehumanized targets may elicit less deontological responses to some extent. Finally, Study 3, but not Study 4, suggests that the decreased level of deontological response pattern may be potentially explained by dehumanization’s effect on reducing deontological, but not utilitarian tendencies. To this point, we conducted a mini-meta-analysis across the combined data for Studies 3 and 4 and compared the differences in the D parameter between the dehumanized condition and humanized conditions. We found an effect size of d = .135, which suggests that if dehumanization has an effect, it may not be a very big effect.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The problem with prediction

Joseph Fridman
Originally published 25 Jan 21

Here is an excerpt:

Today, many neuroscientists exploring the predictive brain deploy contemporary economics as a similar sort of explanatory heuristic. Scientists have come a long way in understanding how ‘spending metabolic money to build complex brains pays dividends in the search for adaptive success’, remarks the philosopher Andy Clark, in a notable review of the predictive brain. The idea of the predictive brain makes sense because it is profitable, metabolically speaking. Similarly, the psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett describes the primary role of the predictive brain as managing a ‘body budget’. In this view, she says, ‘your brain is kind of like the financial sector of a company’, predictively allocating resources, spending energy, speculating, and seeking returns on its investments. For Barrett and her colleagues, stress is like a ‘deficit’ or ‘withdrawal’ from the body budget, while depression is bankruptcy. In Blackmore’s day, the brain was made up of sentries and soldiers, whose collective melancholy became the sadness of the human being they inhabited. Today, instead of soldiers, we imagine the brain as composed of predictive statisticians, whose errors become our neuroses. As the neuroscientist Karl Friston said: ‘[I]f the brain is an inference machine, an organ of statistics, then when it goes wrong, it’ll make the same sorts of mistakes a statistician will make.’

The strength of this association between predictive economics and brain sciences matters, because – if we aren’t careful – it can encourage us to reduce our fellow humans to mere pieces of machinery. Our brains were never computer processors, as useful as it might have been to imagine them that way every now and then. Nor are they literally prediction engines now and, should it come to pass, they will not be quantum computers. Our bodies aren’t empires that shuttle around sentrymen, nor are they corporations that need to make good on their investments. We aren’t fundamentally consumers to be tricked, enemies to be tracked, or subjects to be predicted and controlled. Whether the arena be scientific research or corporate intelligence, it becomes all too easy for us to slip into adversarial and exploitative framings of the human; as Galison wrote, ‘the associations of cybernetics (and the cyborg) with weapons, oppositional tactics, and the black-box conception of human nature do not so simply melt away.’

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Psychology of Dehumanization

People have an amazing capacity to see their fellow human beings as...not human. Psychologists have studied this both in its blatant and more subtle forms. What does it mean to dehumanize? How can researchers capture everyday dehumanization? Is it just prejudice? What does it say about how we think about non-human animals?

An important, well done 11 minute video.

Published  4 Feb 2021

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Blatant dehumanization in the mind's eye: Prevalent even among those who explicitly reject it?

Petsko, C. D., Lei, R., Kunst, J. R., & others
(2020, August 5).


Research suggests that some people, particularly those on the political right, have a tendency to blatantly dehumanize low-status groups. However, these findings have largely relied on self-report measures, which are notoriously subject to social desirability concerns. To better understand just how widely blatant forms of intergroup dehumanization might extend, the present paper leverages an unobtrusive, data-driven perceptual task to examine how U.S. respondents mentally represent ‘Americans’ vs. ‘Arabs’ (a low-status group in the U.S. that is often explicitly targeted with blatant dehumanization). Data from two reverse-correlation experiments (original N = 108; pre-registered replication N = 336) and seven rating studies (N = 2,301) suggest that U.S. respondents’ mental representations of Arabs are significantly more dehumanizing than their representations of Americans. Furthermore, analyses indicate that this phenomenon is not reducible to a general tendency for our sample to mentally represent Arabs more negatively than Americans. Finally, these findings reveal that blatantly dehumanizing representations of Arabs can be just as prevalent among individuals exhibiting low levels of explicit dehumanization (e.g., liberals) as among individuals exhibiting high levels of explicit dehumanization (e.g., conservatives)—a phenomenon into which exploratory analyses suggest liberals may have only limited awareness. Taken together, these results suggest that blatant dehumanization may be more widespread than previously recognized, and that it can persist even in the minds of those who explicitly reject it.

Friday, July 26, 2019

The Effects of Pornography on Unethical Behavior in Business

Mecham, Nathan and Lewis-Western, Melissa Fay and Wood, David A.
(June 5, 2019). Journal of Business Ethics, Forthcoming.
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3399630


Pornography is no longer an activity confined to a small group of individuals or the privacy of one’s home. Rather, it has permeated modern culture, including the work environment. Given the pervasive nature of pornography, we study how viewing pornography affects unethical behavior at work. Using survey data from a sample that approximates a nationally representative sample in terms of demographics, we find a positive correlation between viewing pornography and intended unethical behavior. We then conduct an experiment to provide causal evidence. The experiment confirms the survey — consuming pornography causes individuals to be less ethical. We find that this relationship is mediated by increased moral disengagement from dehumanization of others due to viewing pornography. Combined, our results suggest that choosing to consume pornography causes individuals to behave less ethically. Because unethical employee behavior has been linked to numerous negative organization outcomes including fraud, collusion, and other self-serving behaviors, our results have implications for most societal organizations.

From the Conclusion:

Because pornography increases unethical behavior and the effect stems from an increased propensity to dehumanize others, our results have implications for numerous business and organizational decisions. For example, an increased tendency to lie to obtain gain and to view others only as a means to an end is likely to be highly detrimental to team effectiveness and cooperation. In addition, treating customers like objects rather than respecting them is likely to reduce customer satisfaction. Also, organizations’ ability to retain and develop talented women may be undermined when employees, particularly those in leadership positions, consume pornography and more aggressively engage in dehumanizing behavior. Finally, increased employee propensity to dehumanize co-workers is likely to increase the incidence of sexual harassment or hostile work environments, both of which can decrease firm productivity and lead to costly litigation.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Our enemies are human: that’s why we want to kill them

Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Jesse Graham
Originally posted December 13, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

What we found was that dehumanising victims predicts support for instrumental violence, but not for moral violence. For example, Americans who saw Iraqi civilians as less human were more likely to support drone strikes in Iraq. In this case, no one wants to kill innocent civilians, but if they die as collateral damage in the pursuit of killing ISIS terrorists, dehumanising them eases our guilt. In contrast, seeing ISIS terrorists as less human predicted nothing about support for drone strikes against them. This is because people want to hurt and kill terrorists. Without their humanity, how could terrorists be guilty, and how could they feel the pain that they deserve?


Many people believe that it is only a breakdown in our moral sensibilities that causes violence. To reduce violence, according to this argument, we need only restore our sense of morality by generating empathy toward victims. If we could just see them as fellow human beings, then we would do them no harm. Yet our research suggests that this is untrue. In cases of moral violence, our experiments suggest that it is the engagement of our moral sense, not its disengagement, that often causes aggression. When Myanmar security forces plant landmines at the Bangladesh border in an attempt to kill the Rohingya minorities who are trying to escape the slaughter, the primary driver of their behaviour is not dehumanisation, but rather moral outrage toward an enemy conceptualised as evil, but also completely human.

The article is here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Root of All Cruelty

Paul Bloom
The New Yorker
Originally published November 20, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

Early psychological research on dehumanization looked at what made the Nazis different from the rest of us. But psychologists now talk about the ubiquity of dehumanization. Nick Haslam, at the University of Melbourne, and Steve Loughnan, at the University of Edinburgh, provide a list of examples, including some painfully mundane ones: “Outraged members of the public call sex offenders animals. Psychopaths treat victims merely as means to their vicious ends. The poor are mocked as libidinous dolts. Passersby look through homeless people as if they were transparent obstacles. Dementia sufferers are represented in the media as shuffling zombies.”

The thesis that viewing others as objects or animals enables our very worst conduct would seem to explain a great deal. Yet there’s reason to think that it’s almost the opposite of the truth.


But “Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Sustain, End, and Honor Social Relationships” (Cambridge), by the anthropologist Alan Fiske and the psychologist Tage Rai, argues that these standard accounts often have it backward. In many instances, violence is neither a cold-blooded solution to a problem nor a failure of inhibition; most of all, it doesn’t entail a blindness to moral considerations. On the contrary, morality is often a motivating force: “People are impelled to violence when they feel that to regulate certain social relationships, imposing suffering or death is necessary, natural, legitimate, desirable, condoned, admired, and ethically gratifying.” Obvious examples include suicide bombings, honor killings, and the torture of prisoners during war, but Fiske and Rai extend the list to gang fights and violence toward intimate partners. For Fiske and Rai, actions like these often reflect the desire to do the right thing, to exact just vengeance, or to teach someone a lesson. There’s a profound continuity between such acts and the punishments that—in the name of requital, deterrence, or discipline—the criminal-justice system lawfully imposes. Moral violence, whether reflected in legal sanctions, the killing of enemy soldiers in war, or punishing someone for an ethical transgression, is motivated by the recognition that its victim is a moral agent, someone fully human.

The article is here.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Moral outrage in the digital age

Molly J. Crockett
Nature Human Behaviour (2017)
Originally posted September 18, 2017

Moral outrage is an ancient emotion that is now widespread on digital media and online social networks. How might these new technologies change the expression of moral outrage and its social consequences?

Moral outrage is a powerful emotion that motivates people to shame and punish wrongdoers. Moralistic punishment can be a force for good, increasing cooperation by holding bad actors accountable. But punishment also has a dark side — it can exacerbate social conflict by dehumanizing others and escalating into destructive feuds.

Moral outrage is at least as old as civilization itself, but civilization is rapidly changing in the face of new technologies. Worldwide, more than a billion people now spend at least an hour a day on social media, and moral outrage is all the rage online. In recent years, viral online shaming has cost companies millions, candidates elections, and individuals their careers overnight.

As digital media infiltrates our social lives, it is crucial that we understand how this technology might transform the expression of moral outrage and its social consequences. Here, I describe a simple psychological framework for tackling this question (Fig. 1). Moral outrage is triggered by stimuli that call attention to moral norm violations. These stimuli evoke a range of emotional and behavioural responses that vary in their costs and constraints. Finally, expressing outrage leads to a variety of personal and social outcomes. This framework reveals that digital media may exacerbate the expression of moral outrage by inflating its triggering stimuli, reducing some of its costs and amplifying many of its personal benefits.

The article is here.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Psychologists surveyed hundreds of alt-right supporters. The results are unsettling.

Brian Resnick
Originally posted August 15, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The alt-right scores high on dehumanization measures

One of the starkest, darkest findings in the survey comes from a simple question: How evolved do you think other people are?

Kteily, the co-author on this paper, pioneered this new and disturbing way to measure dehumanization — the tendency to see others as being less than human. He simply shows study participants the following (scientifically inaccurate) image of a human ancestor slowly learning how to stand on two legs and become fully human.

Participants are asked to rate where certain groups fall on this scale from 0 to 100. Zero is not human at all; 100 is fully human.

On average, alt-righters saw other groups as hunched-over proto-humans.

On average, they rated Muslims at a 55.4 (again, out of 100), Democrats at 60.4, black people at 64.7, Mexicans at 67.7, journalists at 58.6, Jews at 73, and feminists at 57. These groups appear as subhumans to those taking the survey. And what about white people? They were scored at a noble 91.8. (You can look through all the data here.)

The article is here.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Effects of biological explanations for mental disorders on clinicians’ empathy

By Matthew S. Lebowitz and Woo-kyoung Ahn
Effects of biological explanations for mental disorders on clinicians’ empathy
PNAS 2014 : 1414058111v1-201414058


Mental disorders are increasingly understood in terms of biological mechanisms. We examined how such biological explanations of patients’ symptoms would affect mental health clinicians’ empathy—a crucial component of the relationship between treatment-providers and patients—as well as their clinical judgments and recommendations. In a series of studies, US clinicians read descriptions of potential patients whose symptoms were explained using either biological or psychosocial information. Biological explanations have been thought to make patients appear less accountable for their disorders, which could increase clinicians’ empathy. To the contrary, biological explanations evoked significantly less empathy. These results are consistent with other research and theory that has suggested that biological accounts of psychopathology can exacerbate perceptions of patients as abnormal, distinct from the rest of the population, meriting social exclusion, and even less than fully human. Although the ongoing shift toward biomedical conceptualizations has many benefits, our results reveal unintended negative consequences.


Mental disorders are increasingly understood biologically. We tested the effects of biological explanations among mental health clinicians, specifically examining their empathy toward patients. Conventional wisdom suggests that biological explanations reduce perceived blameworthiness against those with mental disorders, which could increase empathy. Yet, conceptualizing mental disorders biologically can cast patients as physiologically different from “normal” people and as governed by genetic or neurochemical abnormalities instead of their own human agency, which can engender negative social attitudes and dehumanization. This suggests that biological explanations might actually decrease empathy. Indeed, we find that biological explanations significantly reduce clinicians’ empathy. This is alarming because clinicians’ empathy is important for the therapeutic alliance between mental health providers and patients and significantly predicts positive clinical outcomes.

The entire article is here.