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Social connection enables dehumanization

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Being socially connected has considerable benefits for oneself, but may have negative consequences for evaluations of others. In particular, being socially connected to close others satisfies the need for social connection, and creates disconnection from more distant others. We therefore predicted that feeling socially connected would increase the tendency to dehumanize more socially distant others. Four experiments support this prediction. Those led to feel socially connected were less likely to attribute humanlike mental states to members of various social groups (Experiments 1 and 2), particularly distant others compared to close others (Experiment 3), and were also more likely to recommend harsh treatment for dehumanized others (i.e., terrorist detainees, Experiment 4). Discussion addresses the mechanisms by which social connection enables dehumanization, and the varied behavioral implications that result.Highlights► Experiences of social connection can enable dehumanization. ► Social connection particularly enables dehumanization toward distant others. ► Social connection’s effect on dehumanization can increase willingness to torture.
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Social connection enables dehumanization
Adam Waytz
a,
, Nicholas Epley
b
a
Northwestern University, USA
b
University of Chicago, USA
abstractarticle info
Article history:
Received 22 April 2011
Revised 21 July 2011
Available online 6 August 2011
Keywords:
Social connection
Dehumanization
Morality
Being socially connected has considerable benets for oneself, but may have negative consequences for
evaluations of others. In particular, being socially connected to close others satises the need for social
connection, and creates disconnection from more distant others. We therefore predicted that feeling socially
connected would increase the tendency to dehumanize more socially distant others. Four experiments
support this prediction. Those led to feel socially connected were less likely to attribute humanlike mental
states to members of various social groups (Experiments 1 and 2), particularly distant others compared to
close others (Experiment 3), and were also more likely to recommend harsh treatment for dehumanized
others (i.e., terrorist detainees, Experiment 4). Discussion addresses the mechanisms by which social
connection enables dehumanization, and the varied behavioral implications that result.
© 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Among the most horrifying images of human indecency is a
photograph of two Nazi doctors calmly monitoring the vital signs of a
Jewish prisoner soaking up to his neck in near-freezing water. Such
horric instances may be taken as illustrations of dehumanization, of
failing to represent others as human beings worthy of moral concern
and treating them instead as animals or objects. The relationship that
automatically captures attention in this and other instances of
dehumanization is the one between aggressor and victimbetween
the doctor and dehumanized patient.We suggest, however, that a
full understanding of the psychological process of dehumanization
requires considering the other relationship often present in such
images as wellthe social connection between the two doctors, or
between an aggressor and other socially supportive afliates. In
particular, we suggest that feeling socially connected to others may
enable people to represent more distant others as subhuman, both in
extreme cases such as the Holocaust as in more mundane situations.
Dehumanizing distant others may therefore be enabled, at least in
part, by a sense of social connection to close others.
Unfortunately for scientic understanding, dehumanization in
public discourse is commonly equated only with its behavioral
consequences such as aggression (Greitemeyer & McLatchie, 2011),
rather than with its dening psychological attributes. Psychologically,
dehumanization represents a failure to attribute basic human qualities
to others. Oneconceptualization suggests thatdehumanization involves
the denial of qualities or traits that people perceive to be uniquely
human (e.g., idealistic, analytic) or central to human nature (e.g.,
curious,imaginative; Haslam, 2006).A second conceptualization known
as infrahumanization suggests that people dehumanize others by
denying people secondary emotions (e.g.,nostalgia, humiliation; Leyens
et al., 2003)that are precisely the emotions that require higher order
mental capacities such as self-reection, retrospection, andprospection.
Yet another research program has operationalized dehumanization as
diminished activation in the medial prefrontal cortex (Harris & Fiske,
2006), a brain region distinctively involved in attributing mental states
to others (Amodio & Frith, 2006; Mitchell, 2009). Broader characteriza-
tions describe dehumanization as a process that divests people of
human qualities or attributes bestial qualities to them [whereby] they
are no longer viewed as persons with feelings, hopes, and concerns but
as subhuman objects(Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli,
1996, p. 366). Although these different conceptualizations of dehuman-
ization vary in their details, the central feature of all existing
psychological accounts is a failure to attribute a mind to other humans,
treating others as if they lacked the capacity for higher order reasoning
or conscious awareness and experience (Gray, Gray, & Wegner, 2007).
Dehumanized others lack the capacity to thinklike animalsor to
feellike objects (Haslam, 2006).
Predicting that social connection would enable such a potentially
negative outcome appears inconsistent with the well-known benets
of social connection. Being socially connected to another individual or
group increases self-esteem (Leary & Baumeister, 2000), happiness
(Diener & Seligman, 2002), meaning (Heine, Proulx, & Vohs, 2006),
and physical health (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008). Being socially
disconnected, in contrast, diminishes self-control, reduces intelligent
thought, and presents a health risk equivalent to smoking, obesity,
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 7076
We thank Ashley Angulo, Adrianna Guerrero, Mina Kang, Jasmine Kwong, Entzu
Lin, Alex Michev, Paul Thomas, Kelsey Tupper, Rebecca White for their technical
assistance, and the Templeton Foundation and Booth School of Business for nancial
support.
Corresponding author at: Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management,
2001 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL 60208, USA.
E-mail address: a-waytz@kellogg.northwestern.edu (A. Waytz).
0022-1031/$ see front matter © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.07.012
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jesp
and high blood pressure (House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988; see
Baumeister, Brewer, Tice, & Twenge, 2007 for review).
What is good for oneself, however, may not be uniformly good for
others. Feeling socially connected to one person or group may diminish
the motivation to connect with a moredistant person or group. The need
for social connection is similar to a fundamental drive state like hunger
or thirst (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). People who feel hungry look for
food. People who feel socially disconnected likewise seek to satisfy this
drive by attempting to connect with others(Maner, DeWall,Baumeister,
& Schaller, 2007), even attributing humanlike traits to nonhuman
agents that render them suitable agents of social connection (Epley,
Akalis, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2008). People who are full, however, are less
likely to look for food. Similarly, people who feel socially connected are
less motivated to afliate with others (Brewer, 1991; DeWall,
Baumeister, & Vohs, 2008). Considering others' interests, attitudes,
feelings, and preferences are critical for connecting with them.
Diminishing the motivation to connect with others may diminish the
motivation to recognize, think about, or considerothers' mental states as
well.
Being socially connected not only diminishes the motivation to
connect with others, but may also diminish the perceived similarity
with more distant others because social connections delineate those
within one's social circle and those outside of it. Being part of a football
team, a political party, a church, or a married couple identies who is in
one's social circle as well as who is out of one's circle, namely people
within other teams, parties, churches, or marriages. Connecting with
others brings individuals closer to each other, but moves them further
from people from whom they are disconnected. People consider
themselves to be exemplars of humanity, and as others become less
similar to the self, they are evaluated as less humanlike as well (Harris
& Fiske, 2006; Haslam, Bain, Douge, Lee, & Bastian, 2005). Social
connection both diminishes the motivation to connect with other
humans and increases the difference between close and distant others,
and both of these processes suggest, therefore, that social connection
may increase the tendency to dehumanize more distant others.
Some existing evidence supports these hypotheses. First, theclearest
examples of dehumanization arise in intergroup settings in which
ingroup members dehumanize outgroup members (Demoulin et al.,
2009; Esses, Veenvliet, Hodson, & Mihic, 2008; Goff, Eberhardt,
Williams, & Jackson, 2008; Harris & Fiske, 2006; Leyens et al., 2000).
No existing work, however, has identied the role of social connection
in this process, per se. Second, closeness with one's ingroup often co-
occurs with negative behavior toward one's outgroup. For example, in
preindustrial societies, ingroup loyalty correlated with support for
violence toward outgroups (Cohen, Montoya, & Insko, 2006). This is
consistent with research demonstrating that in-group altruism and out-
group hostility evolved jointly (Choi & Bowles, 2007). Recent studies
have shown that administering the neuropeptide oxytocin ahormone
involvedin social bonding increases trust withone's ingroup members
and defensive aggression toward outgroup members (De Dreu et al.,
2010). Third, existing research demonstrates that groups may behave
more unethically and aggressively toward others than individuals (see
Wildschut, Pinter, Vevea, Insko, & Schopler, 2003). In particular, the
presence of others can increase feeling deindividuated that increases
aggression towardothers (Zimbardo, 1969), or can diffuse responsibility
for action that inhibits people's concern for another person's suffering
(Bandura, Underwood, & Fromson, 1975; Darley & Latané, 1968). These
experiments suggest that some of the behaviors commonly associated
with dehumanization may be more likely when people are in groups
than when they are alone, but again do not identify the role of social
connection or dehumanizationin these actions.A combination of factors
including deindividuation, diffusion of responsibility, and social
connection likely accounts for why antisocial behaviors occur more
often when people are in groups than when they are alone.
Our work differs from existing research on dehumanization in three
critical ways. First, social connection does not rely on the presence of a
group (or an ingroup) but can be activated by merely thinking of one
closely-connectedother. Although Demoulin et al. (2009, p. 4) propose
that, in order to infra-humanize, people need to be categorized in
meaningful groups,the present studies demonstrate that mere social
connection absent of any meaningful group categorization can enable
dehumanzation. Second, social connection operates on perceptions of
the other whereas previously identied factors primarily operate on
perceptions of the self (as morally invulnerable, or blameless). Third,
social connection does not necessarily promote aggression, general
immoral behavior, or active antipathy but instead promotes dehuman-
ization in particular.
This paper examines whether social connection diminishes the
attribution of mental capacities toward members of other groups
(Experiment 1), whether the inuence of social connection is specic
to dehumanization or inuences negative evaluations more generally
(Experiment 2), whether the inuence on dehumanization is greater
for targets outside of one's immediate social circle (Experiment 3),
and whether social connection increases the willingness to harm
dehumanized others (e.g., terrorist detainees; Experiment 4).
Experiment 1
Experiment 1 examined whether social connection increases
dehumanization of groups differing on the fundamental dimensions of
social perception: warmth and competence (Fiske, Cuddy, Glick, & Xu,
2002). This included four distinct groups in the extreme corners of the
social perception dimensions: disabled people (low competence, high
warmth), middle-class Americans (high competence, high warmth),
drug addicts (low competence, low warmth), and rich people (high
competence, low warmth). We predicted that people led to feel socially
connected would attribute diminished mental capacities to members of
these groups compared to thosein a control condition. Including groups
that varied on warmth and competence allowed us to test whether the
effect of social connection on dehumanization extends to all groups or
only to typically dehumanized groups (e.g. drug addicts; Harris & Fiske,
2006). Because undiferentiatedmembers of all of these groupsare likely
to appear relatively distant from participants' own ingroups, we did not
expect to see differences in evaluations between these groups.
Method
Participants were thirty-eight individuals (15 female; M
age
=22.32,
SD=3.35) from the University of Chicago population. Participants
entered the laboratory and sat down in individual cubicles to complete
the study on a packet of paper. As an experimental manipulation, we
used a task similar to studies that have asked participants to relive and
write aboutan experience of social connection (e.g., Knowles & Gardner,
2008; Maner et al., 2007). Those assigned to the social connection
condition were rst asked to write about someone close to you that you
interactwith oftensuch as a close friend, a signicant other, or a family
member,to explain how they met, know, and are supported by this
person, and to describe when they might contact this person for social
support in the future. Nine people wrote about a friend, six about a
family member (e.g., parent, sibling), and four about a signicant other
(e.g., boyfriend or girlfriend). Those in thecontrol condition were asked
to write about someone who you see in your daily life, but whom you
do not interact withsuch as a person you often pass on the street,
someone who you see around work or school, or a total stranger.These
instructions served as a control condition in the sense that participants
wrote about another person, but not a person to whom they had any
particular connection. These participants were asked to write about
when they rst saw the person, how long they have seen the person
around, a time when they saw the person,how the person behaves,and
a time when they might see the person again. Control condition
participants wrote about a range of people, including strangers, co-
workers, and neighbors.
71A. Waytz, N. Epley / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 7076
All participants then evaluated the averagemember of the four
groups on four items assessing attribution of intention, cognition, and
emotion (Kozak, Marsh, & Wegner, 2006). Participants indicated
whether each target is capable of: doing things on purpose,
engaging in a great deal of thought,”“experiencing pain,and
experiencing pleasure(1=Strongly Disagree to 7 = Strongly Agree).
We averaged these items to create a composite measure of mind
attribution (all α'sN.74). After each set of mind attribution items,
participants indicated how much they liked the average member of
the given group (1 = Not at all to 7 = Very much). We included this
measure to provide a dissociation between dehumanization and
negative evaluation more generally, predicting that social connection
would systematically affect dehumanization, but not liking.
Results
A 2(condition: connected or control)× 4 (target group: disabled
people, middle class Americans, drug addicts, rich people) repeated
measures ANOVA on mind attribution revealed a signicant effect for
target group. Participants across both conditions rated the average drug
addict (M=5.73) as less mindful than any other group (disabled:
M= 6.49,middle class: M=6.32, rich: M=6.38), F(3, 34)= 7.08, pb.01.
More central to our hypotheses, a main effect for condition also
emerged, F(1, 36)=3.91, p= .056, such that participants in the
connection condition dehumanized all groups to a greater degree than
participants in the control condition (see Table 1). This result provides
some initial support for our hypothesis, albeit with a marginally
signicant result. No signicant interaction emerged (pN.54).
To determine whether social connection similarly inuenced
liking for the targets, we conducted the same 2(condition)× 4 (target
group) repeated measures ANOVA on liking. A signicant main effect
of target group emerged, F(3, 34) = 12.56, pb.01, with disabled
people liked the most (M= 4.74) and rich people the least (M=3.63).
However, no signicant main effect for condition or interaction
emerged (psN.26), suggesting that social connection increased
dehumanization specically, rather than disliking or animosity more
generally.
Experiment 2
Experiment 2 served as a conceptual replication of Experiment 1
using a different measure of dehumanization that enables a
distinction between dehumanization and other forms of moral
disengagement (Bandura et al., 1996), and using a slighty different
manipulation of social connection.
Method
Participants were thirty-ve individuals from the University of
Chicago population. Demographics were not recorded, but participants
were drawn from the same population as Experiment 1. Participants in
this study similarly completed the study in individual cubicles, in the
laboratory. Those assigned to the connected condition received a paper
packet with instructions asking them to think about going back home
to attend a big family Thanksgiving dinner,to think of the person or
people at that dinner that you feel closest to,and to discuss their
relationship with each person and the topics they would discuss at the
dinner. We conducted this experiment close to the Thanksgiving
holiday.
Participants in the control condition received instructions to write
about a non-social event, instructing them to think about walking
around Hyde Park to do some shopping,and think about businesses
you go to routinely.Participants were then asked to write about how
long they have been going to each business listed, and to described a
typical visit to each one.
All participants then completed Bandura et al.'s (1996) moral
disengagement scale. This construct-validated measure contains eight
subscales related to moral disengagement, including dehumanization
(Table 1). The other subscales are moral justication, euphemistic
language, advantageous comparison, displacement of responsibility,
distorting consequences, and attribution of blame. We included all of
these subscales to distinguish dehumanization in particular to moral
disengagement more generally. Each subscale includes four items.
Items for the dehumanization subscale were: Some people deserve to
be treated like animals,”“It is okay to treat badly somebody who
behaved like a worm.”“Someone who is obnoxious does not deserve
to be treated like a human being.and Some people have to be
treated roughly because they lack feelings that can be hurt
(1=Strongly Disagree,5=Strongly Agree;α=.76).
Results and discussion
As shown in Table 1, participants in the connection condition scored
higheron dehumanization than didparticipants in thecontrol condition,
F(1, 33)= 4.71, pb.05. No other subscale differed between conditions
(all ps.18). These results suggest that social connection increases
dehumanization specically, rather than moral disengagement more
generally. Although all eight facets of moral disengagement are highly
interrelated (α=.87 for all items),the manipulationof social connection
signicantly increased only dehumanization.
Experiment 3
Experiment 3 examined a potentially important moderator,
namely whether the effect of social connection on dehumanization
was larger for socially distant targets versus socially close targets. If
social connection diminishes the need to connect with others, then its
effects should be larger for others who are more disconnected and
distant from the self already than from others who are more closely
connected to the self. Unlike in Experiment 1 where all groups were
relatively distant from our participants, Experiment 3 provides a
direct manipulation of close versus distant status.
Table 1
Mean dehumanization and liking evaluations by participants in the connected and
control conditions of Experiments 1, 2, and 4.
Condition
Connection Control t, p
Experiment 1:
Mind attribution 6.02 6.44 1.98, .06
Liking 4.13 4.18 0.20, .84
Experiment 2:
Dehumanization 1.78 1.32 2.17, .04
Moral justication 2.98 2.82 0.56, .58
Euphemistic language 2.15 2.33 0.90, .38
Advantageous comparison 1.66 1.82 0.71, .48
Displacement of responsibility 2.07 2.17 0.45, .66
Diffusion of responsibility 1.94 1.96 0.09, .93
Distorting consequences 1.97 1.83 0.68, .50
Attribution of blame 2.38 2.08 1.36, .18
Experiment 4:
Dehumanization 2.52 1.96 2.08, .04
Harm .22 .23 2.11, .04
Note.InExperiment 1, responses to mind attribution and liking measures could range
from 1 to 7 with higher numbers indicating increased mind attribution or liking. In
Experiment 2, responses to all items on the Moral Disengagement scale could range
from 1 to 5, with higher numbers indicating more moral disengagement as measured
by each distinct subscale. In Experiment 4, responses on the dehumanization subscale
again ranged from 1 to 5, with higher numbers indicating more dehumanization.
Responses to the harm measure are presented as an average of z-scores for each item.
72 A. Waytz, N. Epley / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 7076
Method
Eighty-four people from the University of Chicago population (59
female; M
age
=20.54, SD=3.21) participated online in exchange for
entry into a prize lottery. A link to the study was sent to participants
through various university e-mail listservs. Participants were randomly
assigned to one of three conditions, one intended to increase perceived
social connection (connected condition) and two that were not
(unconnected and control). In the connected condition, participants
were asked (as in Experiment 1)towrite about someone close to you
that you interact with oftenand the ways that they feel close to that
person.Thirteen participants wrote abouta friend, twelve about a family
member, and four about a signicant other.
In the control condition, participants received no instructions to
write any essay and simply proceeded to the next section. In the
unconnected condition (similar to Experiment 1), participants were
asked to write about someone with whom you feel a total lack of
afliationand to describe who the person is, why they would not
contact that person for support, and why they do not feel any
afliation toward that person. Participants wrote about a wide range
of targets. It is important to note that this condition differs from
experimental manipulations of active social exclusion and rejection
because participants simply wrote about a distant other, rather than
an experience of exclusion or rejection. Manipulations of social
exclusion and rejection have varied effects on dehumanization, in
some cases increasing dehumanization of both oneself and the
perpetrator of exclusion out of frustration and spite (Bastian &
Haslam, 2010) and in other cases increasing humanization of
nonhumans (Epley et al., 2008). We did not, however, manipulate
rejection or exclusion directly in this experiment, nor did we measure
evaluations of targets responsible for social acceptance or exclusion.
Therefore, we had no explicit prediction about the effects of the
unconnected condition on dehumanization, except that it would not
increase dehumanization to the same degree as the connected
condition.
The next section of the experiment asked participants to evaluate
two targets, one relatively close and connected to the participants
(the average University of Chicago student) and one more distant
and disconnected (the average person in downtown Chicago), on
the complete 10-item mind attribution scale (Kozak et al., 2006;
αs= .84 and .90. respectively). These targets were included to test the
effect of social connection on socially close and socially distant targets
(versus the abstract targets included in Experiments 1 and 2). We
computed a mind attribution composite score for both targets as a
measure of dehumanization. Participants then provided demographic
information and indicated how much they liked each target (1= Not
at All,7=Very Much). Again, we included this measure of liking to
dissociate dehumanization in particular from negative evaluation
more generally, predicting that social connection would have distinct
effects on dehumanization and liking.
Results and discussion
A 3(condition: connected, unconnected, or control) × 2 (target
group: UChicago student or average Chicagoan) repeated measures
ANOVA on mind attribution revealed a signicant effect for target
group. Participants dehumanized the average Chicagoan (M=5.65)
more than the average UChicago student (M= 6.10), F(1, 81)= 64.07,
pb.01. This was qualied by the predicted interaction, F(2, 81)=4.03,
pb.05. The difference in mind attribution between target groups was
larger in the connected condition than in either the unconnected or
control conditions, Fs (1, 81) = 5.35 and 6.55, respectively, psb.05. No
signicant difference emerged across conditions in ratings of the
average UChicago student (the close target), but signicant differences
instead emerged across ratings of the average Chicagoan (the distant
target). Planned contrasts revealed that those in the connected
condition attributed signicantly less mind to the average Chicagoan
than did participants in the control and unconnected conditions, Fs (1,
81)= 22.55 and 5.07, respectively, psb.05.
A comparable 3(condition) × 2 (target group) repeated measures
ANOVA on liking revealed very different results: a signicant main
effect of target group, F(1, 81)= 9.47, pb.01, qualied by an
unpredicted condition × target group interaction, F(2, 81)= 3.51,
pb.05. Unlike the mind attribution results, liking of the UChicago
student differed by condition, such that participants in the connected
condition (M=4.72) and in the baseline condition (M= 4.70) liked
the average UChicago student more than did participants in the
unconnected condition (M=3.96), both p's b.01. Liking of the average
Chicagoan was marginally lower for participants in the baseline
condition (M=3.79) than for participants in the connected condition
(M=4.23), F(1, 81) = 3.16, p= .08. Participants in the connected
condition also liked the average UChicago student signicantly more
than the average Chicagoan, F(1, 81)= 13.92, pb.01, and participants
in the baseline condition liked the average UChicago student
marginally more than the average Chicagoan, F(1, 81) = 3.62,
p=.06 (see Table 2). No other simple effects were signicant (all
p'sN.30). Because we did not predict this pattern, we will not
speculate on its cause. The important point for this research is that the
effect of social connection on measures related to dehumanization
once again appears distinct from a more general dislike of others.
Experiment 4
Our nal experiment used a more immediate manipulation of
social connection (whether a friend or a stranger was nearby), and
assessed both a psychological measure of dehumanization (the
dehumanization subscale of Bandura et al.'s Moral Disengagement
scale used in Experiment 2) as well as a consequence of itnamely a
willingness to endorse harming a dehumanized other, in this case a
willingness to endorse harsh interrogation techniques for the
terrorists being detained for plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks
on the United States. We predicted that participants in our social
connection condition would be more likely to dehumanize these
detainees and thus more willing to endorse harsh interrogation.
Method
Fifty-nine people from the Chicago population (37 females,
M
age
=23.12, SD= 5.88) completed the experiment in exchange for
$4. Participants entered a public laboratory in downtown Chicago for a
study on attitudes. After signing up for the study, participants were
randomly assigned to condition by being instructed to arrive with a
friend or were (as usual) expected to arrive alone. Those who arrived
with a friend were assigned to the connected condition in which they
completed all materials in the room with their friend, whereas those
who arrived alone were assigned to the control condition and
completedall materials in the room with another stranger also assigned
to the control condition. Despite the presence of two individuals in a
Table 2
Mean dehumanization and liking evaluations from Experiment 3.
Measure: Condition
Connected Baseline Unconnected
Mind attribution
Close other 6.09
a
6.20
a
5.99
a
Distant other 5.42
a
5.87
b
5.64
c
Difference .67
a
.33
b
.35
b
Liking
Close other 4.72
a
4.70
a
3.96
b
Distant other 3.79
a
4.23
a
4.00
a
Note. Values that share a letter across rows do not differ signicantly from each other.
73A. Waytz, N. Epley / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 7076
single session, participants could not see or monitor each other, and we
therefore analyzed them as independent observations.
In both conditions, participants received a packet showing the faces
of 11 individuals. Participants read that these photos were of
terrorists responsible for plotting the September 11 attacks on the
World Trade Center that killed thousands of U.S. citizens,and that
they are currently being held for questioning by the United States in
various detention centers.Participants then completed the four items
from the moral disengagement scale (Bandura et al., 1996) where the
subject of each item was replaced with these detainees(α=.90).
Participants were then asked ve nal questions, two ller items and
three that served as our measure of willingness to endorse harm:
1) How important is it to treat these people humanely?(1=not at
all important,7=very important). (2) Consider that these individuals
have been waterboardedHow acceptable do you consider this
treatment?(1=not at all acceptable,7=very acceptable). (3) One
torture technique that the military has employed with detainees is to
deliver an electric shockHow much electric shock is it acceptable to
deliver to these individuals? Please enter a number between 0 V and
450 V.
1,2
After reverse scoring the rst item, we then standardized
each item and averaged them into a composite (α= .78). The other
two items included in this nal set were irrelevant to harm, asking
about the relationship between the military, Congress, and the media.
Results and discussion
As shown in Table 1, participants in the connection condition
dehumanized the detainees signicantly more than did participants in
the control condition, t(57) = 2.08, pb.05, and were also signicantly
more willing to endorse harming them, t(57) = 2.11, pb.05. Neither
age, ethnicity, nor gender signicantly moderated the effect of
condition on dehumanization. As shown in Fig. 1, dehumanization
fully mediated the effect of condition on endorsement of harm, Sobel's
z=2.04, pb.05. Social connection appears capable of increasing
dehumanization of distant others, and of inuencing at least one
consequence of dehumanization as well.
The manipulation of social connection in Study 4 is more diffuse
than the more focused social connection manipulations used in
Studies 13, and the underlying mechanism is therefore more
ambiguous. For example, being in a room with a friend may have
increased participants' sense of a shared American identity that may
then increase willingness to dehumanize and torture ostensible
terrorists. Or, the presence of a friend may have provided a sense of
security that participants could discuss and therefore rationalize their
more dehumanizing and aggressive responses after the study. Both of
these alternatives, however, are subsumed under the broader variable
of social connection that we believe is the more general and obvious
consequence of being in a room with a friend versus a stranger.
General discussion
Four experiments suggest that social connection enables dehu-
manization. In Experiments 13, thinking about a close other
increased the tendency to dehumanize other people, either by failing
to attribute humanlike mental states to them or by reporting that it is
acceptable to treat others like animals. In Experiment 4, the actual
presence of a close other increased dehumanization of suspected
terrorists, thereby increasing the willingness to endorse especially
harsh interrogation practices toward them. These ndings do not
suggest that social connection always increases negativity toward
others (see Mikulincer & Shaver, 2005), but rather that social
connection can enable dehumanization in particular. We predicted
this effect because considering the minds of others requires
motivation and effort, and because one's own mind is considered to
be the prototypical human mind. Increasing social connection
diminishes the motivation to connect with the minds of additional
others and increases the social distance between the self and more
distant others. Future research can test which of these mechanisms is
more likely responsible for the present effects.
Because being socially connected satises such a deep human
need, it also is one of the most important ingredients for human
happiness (Diener & Seligman, 2002). One alternative mechanism for
the effects we have documented in this manuscript could therefore be
that positive mood alone is sufcient to induce dehumanization. This
seems like an implausible explanation of our effects, however,
because an increase in positive mood would be especially likely to
inuence the measures we took that are more closely related to
positive affectnamely liking of the target of evaluation. People who
are happy also tend to be highly sociable (Fredrickson, 2004), and can
misattribute their positive mood to their liking for others under the
right circumstances (Clark & Taraban, 1991). We did not, however,
nd any consistent effect of social connection on liking for the targets
being evaluated in these experiments, as would be predicted by a
direct effect of positive mood. Although we cannot rule out an effect of
positive mood on dehumanization in these experiments, the effects
we observed do not seem to support an effect from positive mood,
either.
Implications
We believe that the present ndings have at least three important
implications. The rst is that dehumanization is often conceived as a
1
We excluded one participant for failing to complete all items.
2
One participant indicated 75195 for the voltage item, which we averaged to equal
135. A second participant wrote, anything up to 240255,which we as averaged to
247.5.
Fig. 1. Mediational analysis of Experiment 4.Note. Standardized betas are reported, along with corresponding p-values. Coefcients in parentheses indicate the relationship between
the proposed mediator and the dependent variable (DV) and between the independent variable (IV) and the dependent variable, simultaneously controlling for the mediator and
independent variable.
74 A. Waytz, N. Epley / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (2012) 7076
source of antipathy toward others a visceral disliking when it may
in fact be better understood as a general indifference or apathy to
others' mental states and experience based on an inference about
diminished mental capacities. In Experiments 13, social connection
inuenced dehumanization without systematically inuencing liking
or other forms of moral disengagement. This distinction is critical for
understanding social behavior. As George Bernard Shaw (1906, p. 82)
noted, The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them,
but to be indifferent to them. That's the essence of inhumanity.
People may be willing to harm dehumanized others not simply
because of emotional hatred, but also perhaps primarily because of
a cognitive indifference to them. Overcoming the potentially negative
consequences of dehumanization requires a clear understanding of its
primary source.
The second implication is that dehumanization is likely to have
considerably more varied consequences than those most commonly
studied, namely violence, aggression, and discrimination toward
others (Bandura et al., 1975; Goff et al., 2008; Struch & Schwartz,
1989; Turner, Layton, & Simons, 1975). Dehumanization may lead
people to overlook others' more complex mental attributes, viewing
them as an instrumental means to an end via objectication
(Frederickson & Roberts, 1997). Dehumanization may also lead
people to ignore others, or to treat others as they would children,
considering them agents worthy of moral care but denying them
autonomy. In this way, dehumanization may actually increase
prosocial behavior by making one believe the other personlike a
child, or a damsel in distressis incapable of helping him- or herself.
The nal implication is that social connection may have some
unexpected effects on interpersonal and intergroup relations. Being
socially connected to close others has great benets for one's own
physical and mental health, but it also satiates the motivation to
connect with others and can increase the perceived distance between
us and them. Social connection may therefore benet intragroup
relations, but impair intergroup relations. The representation of other
humans as animals or objects may not simply be a function of the
relationship between a perceiver and a dehumanized target, but may
also depend on the strength of social connections with other close
afliates. The consequences of dehumanization may therefore result
not only from the animosity felt toward dehumanized outgroup
members, but also from the connection to close others. The present
research suggests that the most tightly-knit groups from military
units to athletic teams may also be the most likely to treat their
adversaries as subhuman animals.
Historically, scholarly discussion of dehumanization has focused
on its most severe instances, such as the enslavement of African
Americans, the Holocaust, or in Rwandan warfare between the Hutus
and Tutsis. These historical examples of dehumanization often
accompany violence and emerge in propaganda that literally depicts
people as nonhuman entities such as apes, vermin, or cockroaches.
Such extreme examples may suggest that dehumanization is a rare
phenomenon, yet the present research joins a growing body of
research investigating more subtle psychological processes that lead
people to see others as less than human (e.g., Harris & Fiske, 2006;
Haslam, 2006). Central to these treatments is a denial of mental
capacities to other people, the very capacities that people typically
associate with being human. Denial of these mental capacities does
not necessarily lead to the kinds of violence and inhumane treatment
that may be associated with dehumanization, but we believe it is a
critical precursor for it. More common, everyday instances of
dehumanization then include indifference to the pain of a homeless
man begging for change (Van Kleef et al., 2008), or when a boss treats
an employee as a relatively mindless idiot who cares only for a
paycheck and cares nothing for basic human motives like autonomy
and self-expression (Heath, 1999). Any factor that creates disconnec-
tion from others, such as power (Lammers & Stapel, 2011),
socioeconomic status (Piff, Kraus, Côté, Cheng, & Keltner, 2010), or
anonymity (Zimbardo, 1969), may therefore enable dehumanization
by disengaging people from the minds of others. The present research
suggests that social connection is one such factor that can increase
disengagement with the minds of more distant others, leading to a
failure to see people as they really are.
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Stereotype research emphasizes systematic processes over seemingly arbitrary contents, but content also may prove systematic. On the basis of stereotypes' intergroup functions, the stereotype content model hypothesizes that (a) 2 primary dimensions are competence and warmth, (b) frequent mixed clusters combine high warmth with low competence (paternalistic) or high competence with low warmth (envious), and (c) distinct emotions (pity, envy, admiration, contempt) differentiate the 4 competence-warmth combinations. Stereotypically, (d) status predicts high competence, and competition predicts low warmth. Nine varied samples rated gender, ethnicity, race, class, age, and disability out-groups. Contrary to antipathy models, 2 dimensions mattered, and many stereotypes were mixed, either pitying (low competence, high warmth subordinates) or envying (high competence, low warmth competitors). Stereotypically, status predicted competence, and competition predicted low warmth.
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The present study tested derivations from social learning theory on the disinhibition of aggression through processes that weaken self-deterring consequences to injurious conduct. Subjects were provided with opportunities to behave punitively under diffused or personalized responsibility toward groups that were characterized in either humanized, neutral, or dehumanized terms. Both dehumanization and lessened personal responsibility enhanced aggressiveness, with dehumanization serving as the more potent disinhibitor. Escalation of aggression under conditions of dehumanization was especially marked when punitiveness was dysfunctional in effecting desired changes. The uniformly low level of aggression directed toward humanized groups, regardless of variations in responsibility and instrumentality of the conduct, attested to the power of humanization to counteract punitiveness. Results of supplementary measures are consistent with the postulated relationship between self-disinhibiting processes and punitiveness. Dehumanization fostered self-absolving justifications that were in turn associated with increased punitiveness. Findings on the internal concomitants of behavior performed under different levels of responsibility suggest that reducing personal responsibility heightens aggressiveness more through social than personal sources of disinhibition.
Article
Based on the idea that emotion conveys information about the expressor's needs and on Clark and Mills' (1979) distinction between communal relationships and exchange relationships, it was hypothesized that: (a) expression of emotion (when not directed at the other) would be reacted to more favorably when communal than when exchange relationships were desired, and that (b) people would be more willing to express emotion in communal than in exchange relationships. In Study 1 subjects were led to desire a communal or an exchange relationship with another who expressed either happiness, sadness, irritability, or no emotion. Then liking for the other was assessed. When no emotion was expressed, there was no difference in liking for the other between the Communal and Exchange conditions. However, as predicted, when happiness, sadness, or irritability was expressed, liking was significantly greater when a communal rather than an exchange relationship was desired. In Study 2, subjects were paired with an existing friend (Communal conditions) or with a stranger (Exchange conditions) with whom they expected to have a conversation. They were given a list of possible topics some of which involved talking about emotional experiences and some of which did not. As predicted, subjects in the Communal condition indicated a greater preference for talking about emotional topics than did those in the Exchange condition.
Article
Theoretically, people who have the benefits of secure social attachments should find it easier to perceive and respond to other people's suffering, compared with those who have insecure attachments. This is because compassionate reactions are products of what has been called the caregiving behavioral system, the optimal functioning of which depends on its not being inhibited by attachment insecurity (the failure of the attachment behavioral system to attain its own goal, safety and security provided by a caring attachment figure). In a series of recent studies, we have found that compassionate feelings and values, as well as responsive, altruistic behaviors, are promoted by both dispositional and experimentally induced attachment security. These studies and the theoretical ideas that generated them provide guidelines for enhancing compassion and altruism in the real world.
Article
The current paper shows that the experience or possession of power increases dehumanization—the process of denying essential elements of “humanness” in other people and perceiving them as objects or animals. A position of power entails making difficult decisions for other people that may cause pain and suffering. Dehumanization helps to downplay this pain and suffering and thus to justify these decisions. Study 1 shows that powerful people dehumanize an outgroup more. Study 2 replicates that powerful people dehumanize an outgroup more and shows that this is especially likely after making a tough decision that is painful for that outgroup. Study 3 replicates this in a medical context. Together, these studies show that dehumanization—although by itself a very negative phenomenon—can also have functional elements: it helps powerful people to make tough decisions in a more distant, cold, and rational manner.
Article
The present study tested derivations from social learning theory on the disinhibition of aggression through processes that weaken self-deterring consequences to injurious conduct. Subjects were provided with opportunities to behave punitively under diffused or personalized responsibility toward groups that were characterized in either humanized, neutral, or dehumanized terms. Both dehumanization and lessened personal responsibility enhanced aggressiveness, with dehumanization serving as the more potent disinhibitor. Escalation of aggression under conditions of dehumanization was especially marked when punitiveness was dysfunctional in effecting desired changes. The uniformly low level of aggression directed toward humanized groups, regardless of variations in responsibility and instrumentality of the conduct, attested to the power of humanization to counteract punitiveness. Results of supplementary measures are consistent with the postulated relationship between self-disinhibiting processes and punitiveness. Dehumanization fostered self-absolving justifications that were in turn associated with increased punitiveness. Findings on the internal concomitants of behavior performed under different levels of responsibility suggest that reducing personal responsibility heightens aggressiveness more through social than personal sources of disinhibition.
Article
Mfost of social psychology's theories of the self fail to take into account the significance of social identification in the definition of self. Social identities are self-definitions that are more inclusive than the individuated self-concept of most American psychology. A model of optimal distinctiveness is proposed in which social identity is viewed as a reconciliation of opposing needs for assimilation and differentiation from others. According to this model, individuals avoid self-construals that are either too personalized or too inclusive and instead define themselves in terms of distinctive category memberships. Social identity and group loyalty are hypothesized to be strongest for those self-categorizations that simultaneously provide for a sense of belonging and a sense of distinctiveness. Results from an initial laboratory experiment support the prediction that depersonalization and group size interact as determinants of the strength of social identification.