Dehumanization: An Integrative Review
Department of Psychology
University of Melbourne
The concept of dehumanization lacks a systematic theoretical basis, and research that
addresses it has yet to be integrated. Manifestations and theories of dehumanization
are reviewed, and a new model is developed. Two forms of dehumanization are pro
posed, involving the denial to others of 2 distinct senses of humanness: characteristics
that are uniquely human and those that constitute human nature. Denying uniquely
human attributes to others represents them as animal-like, and denying human nature
to others represents them as objects or automata. Cognitive underpinnings of the “an
imalistic” and “mechanistic” forms of dehumanization are proposed. An expanded
sense of dehumanization emerges, in which the phenomenon is not unitary, is not re
stricted to the intergroup context, and does not occur only under conditions of conflict
or extreme negative evaluation. Instead, dehumanization becomes an everyday social
phenomenon, rooted in ordinary social–cognitive processes.
The denial of full humanness to others, and the cru-
elty and suffering that accompany it, is an all-too-
familiar phenomenon. However, the concept of dehu-
manization has rarely received systematic theoretical
treatment. In social psychology, it has attracted only
scattered attention. In this article, I review the many
domains in which dehumanization appears in recent
scholarship and present the main theoretical perspec-
tives that have been developed. I argue that a theoreti
cally adequate concept of dehumanization requires a
clear understanding of “humanness”—the quality that
is denied to others when they are dehumanized—and
that most theoretical approaches have failed to specify
one. Two distinct senses of humanness are proposed,
and empirical research establishing that they are differ
ent in composition, correlates, and conceptual bases is
presented. I introduce a new theoretical model, in
which two forms of dehumanization corresponding to
the denial of the two forms of humanness are proposed,
and I discuss their distinct psychological foundations.
The new model broadens the scope of dehumaniza
tion in a number of important respects and overcomes
some limitations of previous work. In particular, I pro
pose that dehumanization is an important phenomenon
in interpersonal as well as intergroup contexts, occurs
outside the domains of violence and conflict, and has
social–cognitive dimensions in addition to the motiva
tional determinants that are usually emphasized.
Domains of Dehumanization
Before an integrative model of dehumanization can
be attempted, the ways in which the concept has been
employed must be reviewed. Dehumanization is men-
tioned with numerous differences of emphasis and
connotation in many scholarly domains, and any syn-
thesis should be able to capture and organize these
Ethnicity and Race
Dehumanization is arguably most often mentioned
in relation to ethnicity, race, and related topics such as
immigration and genocide. It is in this paradigmatic
context of intergroup conflict that some groups are
claimed to dehumanize others, and these dehumaniz
ing images have been widely investigated. A historical
catalogue is offered by Jahoda (1999), who examined
the many ways in which ethnic and racial others have
been represented, both in popular culture and in schol
arship, as barbarians who lack culture, self-restraint,
moral sensibility, and cognitive capacity. Excesses of
ten accompany these deficiencies: The savage has brut
ish appetites for violence and sex, is impulsive and
prone to criminality, and can tolerate unusual amounts
A consistent theme in this work is the likening of
people to animals. In racist descriptions Africans are
compared to apes and sometimes explicitly denied
membership of the human species. Other groups are
compared to dogs, pigs, rats, parasites, or insects.
Personality and Social Psychology Review
2006, Vol. 10, No. 3, 252–264
Copyright © 2006 by
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Correspondence should be sent to Nick Haslam, Department of
Psychology, University of Melbourne, Parkville VIC 3010, Austra
lia. E-mail: email@example.com
Visual depictions caricature physical features to make
ethnic others look animal-like. At other times, they are
likened to children, their lack of rationality, shame, and
sophistication seen patronizingly as innocence rather
Dehumanization is frequently examined in connec
tion with genocidal conflicts (Chalk & Jonassohn,
1990; Kelman, 1976). A primary focus is the ways in
which Jews in the Holocaust, Bosnians in the Balkan
wars, and Tutsis in Rwanda were dehumanized both
during the violence by its perpetrators and beforehand
through ideologies that likened the victims to vermin.
Similar animal metaphors are common in images of
immigrants (O’Brien, 2003a), who are seen as pollut
ing threats to the social order.
Gender and Pornography
Dehumanization is commonly discussed in feminist
writings on the representation of women in pornogra
phy (LeMoncheck, 1985; MacKinnon, 1987). Pornog
raphy is said to dehumanize women by representing
them in an objectified fashion, by implication remov
ing women from full moral consideration and legiti-
mating rape and victimization (Check & Guloine,
1989). Nussbaum (1999) identified seven components
of this objectification: “instrumentality” and “owner-
ship” involve treating others as tools and commodities;
“denial of autonomy” and “inertness” involve seeing
them as lacking self-determination and agency; “fungi-
bility” involves seeing people as interchangeable with
others of their type; “violability” represents others as
lacking boundary integrity; and “denial of subjectiv-
ity” involves believing that their experiences and feel
ings can be neglected. Fredrickson and Roberts (1997)
argued that the sexual objectification of women ex
tends beyond pornography to the culture at large, in
which a normative emphasis on female appearance
leads women to take a third-person perspective on their
Other feminist work argues that women are typi
cally assigned lesser humanness than men. According
to Ortner (1974), women are pan-culturally “seen as
representing a lower order of being, as being less tran
scendental of nature than men” (p. 73), and femaleness
is equated with animality, nature, and childlikeness.
Similarly, Citrin, Roberts, and Fredrickson (2004) dis
cussed the ways in which femaleness is culturally asso
ciated with lesser degrees of civility and emotional
control, and the unmodified “natural” female body is
often seen as disgustingly animal-like.
Some scholarly work examines the dehumanization
of people with disabilities. O’Brien (1999) showed that
people with cognitive disabilities have historically
been subject to “organism metaphors” that compare
them to parasites that infect the social body.
“Animalization” also occurs, where the “feeble-
minded” are denied full humanity on account of “their
reportedly high procreation rates, their inability to live
cultured lives, their presumed insensitivity to pain,
their propensity for immoral and criminal behavior,
and their instinctual rather than rational nature”
(O’Brien, 2003b, p. 333). Bogdan and Taylor (1989)
proposed that to avoid dehumanizing attitudes toward
the disabled we must attribute thinking to them, see
them as distinct individuals with unique qualities, per
ceive them as engaging in reciprocal behavior, and give
them “social place” within a communal unit. These
“humanizing sentiments” sustain a sense of the dis
abled person as “having the essential qualities to be de
fined as a fellow human being” (pp. 145–146).
The concept of dehumanization features promi
nently in writings on modern medicine, which is said to
dehumanize patients with its lack of personal care and
emotionalsupport;itsreliance ontechnology; itslack of
touch and human warmth; its emphasis on instrumental
efficiency and standardization, to the neglect of the pa-
tient’s individuality; its related neglect of the patient’s
subjective experience in favor of objective, technologi-
cally mediated information; and its emphasis on inter-
ventions performed on a passive individual whose
agencyandautonomyare neglected. This form of dehu-
manization has been described as “objectification” and
as “the denial of qualities associated with meaning, in-
terest, and compassion” (Barnard, 2001, p. 98). Similar
concerns are raised in critiques of psychiatric practice
(Fink, 1982). Szasz (1973) argued that biological psy
chiatry’s deterministic explanations and coercive treat
ments relieve individuals of their autonomy and moral
agency.According toSzasz,psychiatric classificationis
equally dehumanizing, involving a “mechanomorphic”
style of thinking that “thingifies” persons and treats
them as “defective machine[s]” (p. 200). Dehumaniza
tion is also presented in the medical context as a mecha
nism that doctors use to cope with the empathic distress
that attends working with the dying (Schulman-Green,
Technology in general and computers in particular
are a common theme in work on dehumanization.
Montague and Matson (1983) presented a broad analy
sis of “technological dehumanization” or “the reduc
tion of humans to machines” (p. 8), a cultural condition
of postmodern society. This “pathology of mechaniza
tion” (p. 10) involves the robotic pursuit of efficiency
and regularity, automaton-like rigidity and conformity,
and an approach to life that is unemotional, apathetic,
and lacking in spontaneity. Critics charge that the com
puter metaphor of the mind in AI research is dehuman
izing because computers lack our flexibility, emotion
ality, and capriciousness. Turkle (1984) argued that
many adults in the 1970s and 1980s believed that com
puters lacked “the essence of human nature,” under
stood as emotion, intuition, spontaneity, and soul or
spirit. Beliefs about the dehumanizing effects of com
puters compose one factor underlying computer anxi
ety (Beckers & Schmidt, 2001), and reservations about
the educational use of computers revolve around con
cerns that they will reduce social relatedness and in
crease standardization, at the expense of students’indi
viduality (Nissenbaum & Walker, 1998).
Dehumanization makes frequent cameo appear
ances in other academic domains. Educational theorists
decry the dehumanizing implications of standardized
assessment and teaching (Courts & McInerney, 1993),
whichare rigidand impersonaland treatstudents aspas
siveanduncreative. Sportissaid tohavebeen dehuman-
ized by technologies for perfecting the human engine
(Hoberman, 1992). Stigma is claimed to dehumanize
people experiencing mental disorders (Hinshaw &
Cicchetti, 2000), and pro-choice advocates are claimed
to dehumanize the fetus (Brennan, 1995). Implications
of dehumanizing descriptions of accused criminals for
jurors’ sentencing decisions have been investigated
(Myers, Godwin, Latter, & Winstanley, 2004). The de-
humanizing schemes of science fiction aliens, who
leave their hosts as passionless automata, have attracted
attention within cinema studies (Sobchack, 1987). Be
haviorist psychology and economic formalism have
been criticized as dehumanizing for their deterministic
and instrumental approach to the person (Montague &
Matson, 1982; Smith, 1999). The dehumanization of
modern art has been celebrated as a purifying elimina
tion of naturalism through emotional distancing, irony,
and abstraction (Ortega y Gasset, 1968).
Thissurveyillustrates howdehumanizationhas been
discussed in many disciplinary contexts. Although cer
tain themesrepeat,there is great variability in the mean
ings that the concept has carried. Before integrating
these meanings into a coherent model, existing psycho
One important account of dehumanization is found
in Bar-Tal’s (2000) analysis of “delegitimizingbeliefs.”
In these beliefs “extremely negative characteristics are
attributed to another group, with the purpose of exclud
ing it from acceptable human groups and denying it
humanity” (pp. 121–122). Delegitimizing beliefs share
extremely negative valence, emotional activation (typi
cally contemptand fear), culturalsupport,and discrimi
natoryrejection ofthe outgroup.Dehumanization isone
of five belief categories, involving “labelling a group as
or by referring to negatively valued superhuman crea
turessuchas demons,monsters, andsatans”(Bar-Tal,p.
122). Delegitimizing beliefs are theorized as products
of interethnic conflict that serve several functions: ex
plaining the conflict, justifying the ingroup’s aggres
sion, and providing it with a sense of superiority.
Moral Exclusion and Disengagement
Kelman (1976) explored the moral dimensions of
dehumanization in the context of sanctioned mass vio
lence, focusing on the conditions under which normal
moral restraints on violence are weakened. He argued
that hostility generates violence indirectly by dehu
manizing victims, so that no moral relationship with
the victim inhibits the victimizer’s violent behavior.
According to Kelman, dehumanization involves deny-
ing a person “identity”—a perception of the person “as
an individual, independent and distinguishable from
others, capable of making choices” (p. 301)—and
“community”—a perception of the other as “part of an
interconnected network of individuals who care for
each other” (p. 301). When people are divested of these
agentic and communal aspects of humanness they are
deindividuated, lose the capacity to evoke compassion
and moral emotions, and may be treated as means to
ward vicious ends.
Related arguments were made in Opotow’s (1990)
areplaced“outside theboundaryin whichmoral values,
rules, and considerations of fairness apply” (p. 1). Ex
clusion from the moral community is promoted by so
in intensity from genocide through to indifference to
other people’s suffering. Dehumanization is just one of
several extreme forms of moral exclusion, but Opotow
described several milder processes like psychological
condescension (patronizingothersas inferior, irrational
and childlike), and technical orientation (a focus on
means–end efficiency and mechanical routine).
Bandura (2002) complements Kelman and
Opotow’s work with an individual level account of the
cognitive and affective mechanisms involved in moral
agency. Dehumanization is one way in which moral
self-sanctions are selectively disengaged. People who
tress if their identification with victims is blocked by
seeing them “no longer … as persons with feelings,
hopes and concerns but as sub-human objects”
(Bandura, 2002, p. 109). Accordingly, people divested
of human qualities were treated particularly harshly in
an experimental study (Bandura, Underwood, &
Fromson, 1975), and children high in moral disengage
mentengaged inmoreaggressiveanddelinquent behav
ior, and experienced less anticipatory guilt and remorse
(Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 1996).
Thus, tendencies to dehumanize others may partially
explain individual differences in destructiveness.
Schwartz and Struch (1989) developed a distinctive
theoretical approach that emphasizes the central posi
tion of human values in dehumanization. People’s val
ues “express their distinctive humanity,” so “beliefs
about a group’s value hierarchy reveal the perceiver’s
view of the fundamental human nature of the members
of that group” (p. 153). When an outgroup is perceived
to have dissimilar values to the ingroup, it is perceived
to lack shared humanity and its interests can be disre
garded. Schwartz and Struch argued that values reflect
ing that people have “transcended their basic animal
nature and developed their human sensitivities and
moral sensibilities” (p. 155) directly reflect a group’s
humanity. “Prosocial” values (e.g., equality, helpful,
forgiving) are transcendent in this sense, whereas “he-
donism” values (pleasure, a comfortable life) reflect
“selfish interests shared with infra-human species” (p.
155). People can therefore be dehumanized by the per-
ception that they lack prosocial values and/or that their
values are incongruent with one’s ingroup’s values.
Struch and Schwartz (1989) found that indexes of both
dehumanizing perceptions and outgroup dehumani
zation mediated the relation between perceived con
flict (between Israelis and an ultraorthodox Jewish
outgroup) and endorsement of aggression, whereas
ingroup favoritism was unrelated to aggression. They
argued that a motive to harm the outgroup can lead to
the denial of moral sensibility to its members, thus
overcoming inhibitions to the motive’s expression.
In a productive recent line of research on “infra-hu
manization,” Leyens and colleagues (Leyens et al.,
2003; Leyens et al., 2001) have shown that people
commonly attribute more uniquely human “second
ary” emotions to their ingroup than to outgroups but do
not differentially attribute the primary emotions that
we share with other animals. This effect is irreducible
to people’s greater familiarity with ingroup members
(Cortes, Demoulin, Rodriguez, Rodriguez, & Leyens,
2005). People actively avoid attributing secondary emo
tions to outgroups, discount evidence that outgroup
members experience them (Gaunt, Leyens, & Sindic,
2004), and are reluctant to help outgroup members
who express their need in terms of them (Vaes,
Paladino, Castelli, Leyens, & Giovanazzi, 2003). Sec
ondary emotions are also preferentially associated
with the ingroup when implicit methods are used
(Gaunt, Leyens, & Demoulin, 2002; Paladino et al.,
2002). Leyens and colleagues theorize these effects as
the denial of the “human essence” to outgroups.
Infra-humanization is a particularly interesting
form of dehumanization because it is subtle, requiring
no explicit likening of outgroup members to animals,
and is not reducible to ingroup favoritism (positive and
negative secondary emotions are both denied to
outgroups). Infra-humanization also occurs in the ab
sence of intergroup conflict, and therefore extends the
scope of dehumanization well beyond the context of
cruelty and ethnic hatred.
The theoretical perspectives on dehumanization
previously reviewed share several important similari
ties. First, with the exception of the infra-humaniza
tion perspective they discuss dehumanization in the
context of aggression. Whether focusing on the re-
moval of normal restraints on individuals’ aggression,
the societal beliefs that place members of despised
outgroups beyond the boundaries of moral consid-
eration, or the perception of others’ value dissimilar-
ity, they view dehumanization as an important pre-
condition or consequence of violence. Second, they
generally present dehumanization as accompanying
extremely negative evaluations of others, with in-
fra-humanization theory again an exception that al-
lows dehumanization to take milder, everyday forms.
Third, they conceptualize dehumanization as a moti
vated phenomenon serving individual, interpersonal,
or intergroup functions (relief from moral emotions,
self-exoneration, enabling or post hoc justification
for violence, epistemic certainty in the face of non
normative behavior, provision of a sense of superior
ity, enforcement of social dominance). The possibility
that dehumanization might have cognitive determi
nants has been largely unexplored.
A Model of Dehumanization
Any understanding of dehumanization must pro
ceed from a clear sense of what is being denied to the
other, namely humanness. However, with a few excep
tions—Kelman (1976) on identity and community and
Schwartz and Struch (1989) on prosocial values—
writers on dehumanization have rarely offered one,
leaving the meaning of humanness unanalyzed. In
fra-humanization theorists have been unusually ex
plicit, representing humanness as what distinguishes
us from animals. Secondary emotions exemplify hu
man uniqueness in their research, but they acknowl
edge that additional uniquely human attributes (e.g.,
language) may be equally important.
Two Senses of Humanness
This comparative sense of humanness as that which
is uniquely human is a popular way to define the con
cept, but other senses are possible. As Kagan (2004)
We can describeanobject bylistingits features…or by
comparing the object with one from a related category.
…Most answers tothequestionWhat ishumannature?
adopt this second strategy when they nominate the fea
tive enhancements on the properties of apes. (p. 77)
Uniquely human (UH) characteristics define the
boundary that separates humans from the related cate
gory of animals, but humanness may also be under
stood noncomparatively as the features that are typical
of or central to humans. These normative or fundamen
tal characteristics might be referred to as human nature
(HN). Characteristics that are typically or essentially
human—that represent the concept’s “core”—may not
be the same ones that distinguish us from other species.
Having wings is a core characteristic of birds, but not a
reliable criterion for distinguishing them from other
creatures, and curiosity might be a fundamental human
attribute despite not being unique to Homo sapiens.
I propose that UH and HN are distinct senses of hu-
manness, and that different forms of dehumanization
aredenied topeople. Beforelayingoutthetwoproposed
forms of dehumanization, we must clarify the intuitive
distinctions between the senses of humanness.
Little research has been conducted on the attributes
that people see as UH, but evidence collected infor
mally by Leyens et al. (2001) suggests language,
higher order cognition, and refined emotion (“senti
ments”). Gosling’s (2001) work in comparative per
sonality suggests that humans are substantially unique
in traits involving openness to experience (e.g., imagi
native, intelligent, cultured) and conscientiousness (e.g.,
industriousness, inhibition, self-control). Demoulin
et al. (2004) found that emotions judged UH were
believed to be morally informative, cognitively satu
rated, internally caused rather than responsive to the
environment, private (i.e., relatively invisible to ob
servers), and emerging late in development. Schwartz
and Struch (1989) proposed that prosocial values in
volving moral sensibility are seen as UH. The common
threads running through these proposals are cognitive
sophistication, culture, refinement, socialization, and
internalized moral sensibility.
Even less work has been devoted to clarifying lay
conceptions of HN. Some research has explored indi
vidual differences in conceptions of HN (Wrightsman,
1992), but almost none has attempted to characterize
shared beliefs. However, people might be expected to
construe HN differently from UH. First, UH charac
teristics primarily reflect socialization and culture,
whereas HN characteristics would be expected to link
humans to the natural world, and their inborn biologi
cal dispositions. Second, HN should be normative (i.e.,
species typical): prevalent within populations and uni
versal across cultures. As UH characteristics reflect so
cial learning and refinement, they might be expected to
vary across cultures and differentiate within popula
tions. In short, what is UH may not correspond to our
shared humanity. Indeed, Demoulin et al. (2004) found
that UH emotions were judged to be more cross-
culturally variable than others.
A third intuitive distinction between the two senses
of humanness involves their ontological standing. HN
characteristics should be seen as deeply rooted aspects
of persons: parts of their unchanging and inherent na
ture. HN should be seen as that which is essential to hu
manness, the core properties that people share “deep
down” despite their superficial variations. In sum, HN
should be essentialized, viewed as fundamental, inher-
ent, and natural (Haslam, Bastian, & Bissett, 2004;
Rothbart & Taylor, 1992). UH characteristics may not
ratherthan inborn(i.e., the“veneer”of civilization), and
as likely to vary between people and cultures, UH char-
acteristics might even be perceived as nonessential.
Evidence for Two Senses
In a recent series of studies my colleagues and I
have examined the composition of the two proposed
senses of humanness. In three studies (Haslam, Bain,
Douge, Lee, & Bastian, 2005) participants rated the ex
tent to which personality traits were UH (“This charac
teristic is exclusively or uniquely human: it does not
apply to other species”) or HN (“This characteristic is
an aspect of human nature”). In every study mean rat
ings on these items failed to correlate or correlated neg
atively across traits, consistent with the senses’ dis
tinctness. In five-factor model (FFM) terms, high UH
traits tended to fall at the positive and negative poles of
Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness to
Experience (e.g., “idealistic,” “talkative,” “conserva
tive,” “artistic,” “absentminded,” “analytical”), where
as temperament-based traits (Neuroticism and Extra
version) were rated low. HN traits had a different FFM
signature, captured best by positive Agreeableness,
Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Openness traits,
and negative (undesirable) Neuroticism (e.g., “ambi
tious,” “curious,” “determined,” “emotional,” “imagi
native,” “passionate,” “sociable”). Affective traits were
much more central to HN, which also appeared to be
understood in terms of interpersonal warmth, drive, vi
vacity, and cognitive openness (rather than cognitive
sophistication, as in UH).
Haslam et al. (2005) examined judgments of the ex
tent to which traits are HN and UH, on the one hand,
and several conceptual judgments hypothesized to
have differential associations with each. As predicted,
HN traits were judged to be high in prevalence, univer
sality, and emotionality, and to emerge early in devel
opment. UH traits, in contrast, were judged to be low in
prevalence and universality, to appear late in develop
ment, and to be unrelated to emotionality. Consistent
with the proposed ontological distinction between the
two senses of humanness, only HN traits were under
stood in an essentialist fashion, seen as inhering
sources of consistency and causal influence in the per
son. This finding replicated an earlier study (Haslam et
al., 2004), in which HN traits were judged to be deeply
rooted, immutable, informative, discrete, biologically
based, and consistently expressed across situations.
Well replicated evidence therefore supports the dis
tinction between the two proposed senses of human
ness. UH characteristics involve refinement, civility,
morality, and higher cognition, and are believed to
be acquired and subject to variation between people.
This resembles an Enlightenment sense of humanness
(Kashima & Foddy, 2002), emphasizing rationality and
cultivation. HN characteristics involve cognitive flexi
bility, emotionality, vital agency, and warmth, and are
seen as a shared and fundamental “nature” that is em
bedded in the person. This is a Romantic sense of hu
manness that “lays central status on unseen … forces
that dwell deep within the person” and are“givenbyna
ture” (Gergen, 1991, pp.19–20), its content revolving
Warmth! Blood! Humanity! Life!” (Berlin, 1991).
Two Corresponding Forms
If there are two distinct senses of humanness, then
two distinct forms of dehumanization should occur
when the respective properties are denied to others.
The characteristics of these forms of dehumanization
are derived following and summarized in Figure 1.
When UH characteristics are denied to others, they
should in principle be seen as lacking in refinement, ci-
vility, moral sensibility, and higher cognition. They
Figure 1. Proposed links between conceptions of humanness and corresponding forms of dehumanization.
should therefore be perceived as coarse, uncultured,
lacking in self-control, and unintelligent. Their behav
ior should be seen as less cognitively mediated that the
behaviorof others, andthus more drivenby motives, ap
petites, and instincts. As UH characteristics are seen as
later developing (Haslam et al., 2005), their denial may
be associated with a view of others as childlike, imma
ture, or backward. Similarly, if UH characteristics are
understood to have a moral dimension, people denied
them should be seen asimmoraloramoral (i.e., prone to
violate the moral code or lacking it altogether).
Stated baldly, ifpeopleare perceived as lackingwhat
implicitly or explicitly as animal-like. This proposed
“animalistic” form of dehumanization therefore resem
bles infra-humanization (Leyens et al., 2003) but ap
plies broadly to UH characteristics beyond secondary
emotions,mayinvolve explicitcomparisons ofothers to
animals, and may not be limited to intergroup contexts.
UH characteristics might be denied in interpersonal
(self vs. other) comparisons and relationships, rather
than on the basis of outgroup membership.
When HN is denied to others, they should be seen
as lacking in emotionality, warmth, cognitive open-
ness, individual agency, and, because HN is essen-
tialized, depth. As others are seen as lacking emotion
and warmth they will be perceived as inert and cold.
Denying them cognitive openness (e.g., curiosity, flex-
ibility) will give them the appearance of rigidity, and
denying them individual agency represents them as in-
terchangeable (fungible) and passive, their behavior
caused rather than propelled by personal will. Because
they are denied deep-seated characteristics, people de-
nied HN should be represented in ways that emphasize
relatively superficial attributes.
This combination of attributed characteristics—in
ertness, coldness, rigidity, fungibility, and lack of
agency—represents a view of others as object- or au
tomaton-like. This form of dehumanization can there
fore be described as mechanistic. The animalistic form
ofdehumanization restsona directcontrastbetweenhu
the relevant sense of humanness is noncomparative
(HN), humans can be contrasted with machines. The
shared,typical,or corepropertiesof humannessarealso
those that distinguish us from automata.
This trichotomy of humans, animals, and ma
chines has been elaborated in previous work
(Sheehan & Sosna, 1991; Wolfe, 1993), but not ex
plicitly in work on dehumanization. In early support
for its relevance, Loughnan and Haslam (2005) used
the Go/No-go Association Task (GNAT; Nosek &
Banaji, 2001) to demonstrate that social categories
may be differentially associated with the two senses
of humanness, and with animals or automata, in the
manner proposed. We predicted that artists would be
seen as imaginative and spirited (high HN) but lack
ing restraint and civility (low UH), and hence implic
itly associated with animals, whereas businesspeople
would be seen as rational and self-controlled (high
UH) but unemotional, hardhearted, and conforming
(low HN), and hence associated with automata. As
predicted, the GNAT indicated that artists were asso
ciated with HN traits more than UH traits and with
animal-related more than automaton-related stimuli.
In contrast, businesspeople were associated more
strongly with automata and UH traits. Finally, UH
traits were less associated with animals than with au
tomata, and HN traits less with automata than with
animals. By implication, social groups that are not
normally objects of prejudice may be subtly dehu
manized in two distinct ways, implicitly likened to
unrefined animals or soulless machines.
Associated Features of the Model
Emotion. The two forms of dehumanization may
have distinct affective dimensions. Writers who discuss
this is accompanied by degradation and humiliation.
Being divested of UH characteristics is a source of
shame for the target—often with a prominent bodily
component, as in the nakedness of the Abu Ghraib pris-
oners—who becomesan object ofdisgustand contempt
fortheperpetrator.Disgust andrevulsionfeature promi-
Represented as apes with bestial appetites or filthy ver-
min whocontaminateand corrupt, they are oftenviscer-
ally despised. Interestingly, Rozin, Haidt, and
McCauley (2000) identified phenomena that remind us
as fundamental elicitors of disgust: “Insofar as humans
behave like animals, the distinction between humans
and animalsisblurred, and we seeourselves as lowered,
debased” (p. 642). Disgust enables us to avoid evidence
of our animality, so representing others as animal-like
may elicit the emotion. Contempt, a kindred emotion
(Miller, 1997), plays a similar role, locating the other as
below the self or ingroup.
The mechanistic form of dehumanization has a
quite different emotional signature. As it involves emo
tional distancing and represents the other as cold, ro
botic, passive, and lacking in depth, it implies indiffer
ence rather than disgust. Typically, mechanistically
dehumanized others are seen as lacking the sort of au
tonomous agency that provokes strong emotion and are
more likely to be seen as emotionally inert.
Semiotics. The two proposed forms of dehuman
ization also differ in the ways in which they are repre
sented in language. When the animalistic form is in
voked, a theme of vertical comparison consistently
emerges. The other is subhuman or infra-human and is
debased by humiliating treatment. Portraying others as
lacking UH characteristics such as refinement is under
stood as locating them below others on an ordinal scale
of development or evolution. In contrast, the mechanis
tic form of dehumanization involves a sense of hori
zontal comparison based on a perceived dissimilarity
(Locke, 2005). A person who is denied HN—cognitive
openness, warmth, agency, emotion, depth—is seen as
nonhuman more than subhuman. Because HN repre
sents what is fundamentally and normatively human,
those judged to lack it are seen as distant, alien, or for
eign: displaced away rather downward.
Psychological essentialism. Leyens and col
leagues (2001) argue that an essentialist understanding
ferent role in the two forms of dehumanization.
Essentialist thinking about groups—seeing them as
discrete “natural kinds” (Haslam, Rothschild, & Ernst,
2000, 2002; Rothbart & Taylor, 1992)—does appear to
be necessary for animalistic dehumanization. Only if
groups are believed to have categorically different na
tures can intergroup differences be seen as species-like.
However, the nature oftheintergroup difference may be
essentialized without the content of what is attributed
differentially to the groups being essentialized. Two
distinguishes them may be seen as socially shaped
rather than deep and inborn. This appears true of in-
fra-humanization: Group differences are essentialized,
butthe UH emotions thataredifferentially attributed re-
flect socialization (Demoulin et al., 2004). Similarly,
UH traits are not highly essentialized and are seen as
emerging late in development (Haslam et al., 2005).
Such emotions and traits may represent “sortal” es
sences that define a category boundary (Gelman &
Hirschfeld, 1999), but they do not appear to be essences
Essentialism plays a different role in mechanistic
dehumanization. Here it is the content of what is differ
entially attributed (i.e., humanness as HN) that is un
derstood as an inhering essence, and not (necessarily)
the nature of the distinction between the dehumanizer
and the dehumanized. HN characteristics are highly
essentialized (Haslam et al., 2004, 2005) and can be
denied to others in interpersonal comparisons in which
no essentialized intergroup boundary exists (Haslam
et al., 2005). Mechanistic dehumanization may occur
when such a boundary is perceived, but it does not ap
pear to require it.
Social context. Most social–psychological ac
counts present dehumanization as an intergroup phe
nomenon in which outgroups andtheirmembersare de
nied full humanness. The model developed here does
not restrict dehumanization to the intergroup context
and proposes that comparable processes may take place
in interpersonal perception. People may be dehuman
ized not as representatives of a social group but as dis
tinct individuals or members of a “generalized other”
from which other individuals wish to distinguish them
selves. Dehumanization may occur equally in interper
sonal (self–other) and intergroup (ingroup–outgroup)
In three studies, Haslam et al. (2005) supported this
possibility, finding that undergraduates attributed HN
traits to themselves more than to the average student.
This effect was independent of self-enhancement, ob
tained in both direct and indirect comparisons, and me
diated by the attribution of greater depth (i.e., more
essentialized traits) to self than to others. By implica
tion, mechanistic dehumanization may occur in inter
personal comparisons. No equivalent effect for UH
traits was obtained, consistent with findings that UH
emotions are not attributed more to self than to ingroup
(Cortes et al., 2005).
The lack ofevidence forinfra-humanizationininter
personalcomparisons,combined withtheclaim thatan
imalistic dehumanization requires the existence of an
essentialized group boundary, raises the possibility that
infra-humanization is primarily an intergroup phenom-
enon. It has been theorized in this fashion(Leyens et al.,
2001, 2003), and its prototypical examples involve
interethnic relations. Mechanistic dehumanization, in
contrast, has not typically been theorized as an inter-
group phenomenon, and many of the domains in which
it is salient—for example, technology and bio-
medicine—do not have obvious intergroup dynamics.
It would be premature to align the two proposed
forms of dehumanization exclusively with intergroup
or interpersonal contexts. The denial of UH character
istics may occur in interpersonal comparisons, and HN
characteristics are often differentially attributed to
ingroups and outgroups (e.g., the objectification of
women). Nevertheless, the present model of dehuman
ization tentatively proposes that animalistic dehuman
ization is typically an intergroup phenomenon but
mechanistic dehumanization commonly applies in
both intergroup and interpersonal contexts.
Distinctive features. The proposed model, sum
marized in Table 1, differs from previous accounts
in broadening dehumanization to encompass two dis
tinct forms that operate in interpersonal and intergroup
contexts and do not entail conflict and antipathy. In
this regard, it deviates from the dehumanization-as-
demonization view embodied by the delegitimization
approach (Bar-Tal, 2000). It proposes thatsubtlerforms
of dehumanization occur in everyday life when persons
are not granted full humanness, as in stereotypes that
deny groups UH or HN qualities (cf. Fiske, Xu, Cuddy,
& Glick, 1999). Similarly, the model is distinctive in al
lowing that people might simultaneously be dehuman
ized in both ways (e.g., the objectification and degrada
tion of women in violent pornography). The two forms
of dehumanization rest on independent dimensions of
humanness (Haslam et al., 2005) rather than exclusive
categories, and there is no incompatibility between de
nying someone refinement and emotional depth, or be
tween feeling indifference to someone’s suffering and
disgust at their degraded condition.
The Two Forms of Dehumanization
in Previous Research and Theory
The proposedmodelshould clarify themany waysin
which dehumanization has beenunderstoodinprevious
be aligned with one form of dehumanization or the
other, although the two forms might sometimes com-
bine and some theories might refer to common features
of both. Delegitimization (Bar-Tal, 2000), moral exclu
sion (Opotow, 1990), and moral disengagement
(Bandura, 2002) theories, for example, are quite non
specific: Others could be delegitimized, excluded, or
The animalistic form of dehumanization, in which
others are denied UH characteristics such as higher
cognition, self-control, civility, and refinement, is best
exemplified in the context of interethnic antagonism
(e.g., genocide, racial stereotyping, attitudes toward
immigrants). Animal or organism metaphors for ethnic
outgroups are commonplace in this domain, as is the
sense that intergroup differences are as sharp and im
permeable as boundaries between species. This form
of dehumanization also captures perceptions of the
cognitively disabled (O’Brien, 1999, 2003b) and has a
strong resonance with infra-humanization theory.
The mechanistic form of dehumanization is best ex
emplifiedby work in the domains of medicine and tech
nology, where dehumanization is formulated in an ex
plicitly mechanistic fashion (Montague & Matson,
1983; Szasz, 1973). Modern biomedicine is seen as de
humanizing in its focus on standardization, instrumen
tal efficiency, impersonal technique, causal determin
ing implications of computer technology, educational
testing, sport science, modern art, behaviorist psychol
ogy, and economic formalism similarly see these as de
privingpeople of core features of HN. Theoretical work
on the objectification of women (Nussbaum, 1999) has
clear parallels with mechanistic dehumanization, and
the value-based model of dehumanization may also.
Schwartzand Struch(1989)arguethatto deny prosocial
values to others is to deny them UH characteristics, but
research indicates that prosocial characteristics are
judged to be aspects of HN instead. In addition, values
reflecting HN themes of agency and self-determination
are rated as especially important (Bain, Kashima, &
Haslam, in press), so perceiving others to have dissimi-
lar values is likely to involve denying them HN.
Inmosttheoretical accounts,dehumanization is seen
primarily as a motivated phenomenon, enabling the re
lease of aggression or removing the burden of moral
qualms orvicariousdistress. Manytheorists also pay at
tention to the role of societal factors (e.g., political and
religious ideologies, mass movements, delegitimizing
beliefs). Less attention has been paid to the social–cog
nitive underpinnings of dehumanization. Examining
whether it reflects ordinary processes of social cogni
tion may open up possibilities for research and theory
and clarify how it may arise outside contexts of conflict
and violence. Several social–cognitive bases of dehu
manization are proposed following.
One cognitive process that may be implicated in de
humanization is people’s construal of their relationship
with the dehumanized other. Alan Fiske’s (1991) rela
tional models theory, which proposes four fundamental
modesinwhich relationshipsare construed,may helpto
Table 1. Summary of Distinctive Characteristics of the Two Proposed Forms of Dehumanization
Form of Denied Humanness Uniquely human Human nature
Implicit Contrast Animals Automata
Prototypical Domains Interethnic relations, disability Technology, biomedicine
Exemplary Theories Infra-humanization Value based, objectification
Emotion Disgust, contempt Disregard, indifference
Semiotics Vertical comparison Horizontal comparison
Essentialism Nature of difference between perceiver
Content of attributed difference between perceiver
Social Context Primarily intergroup Intergroup and interpersonal
Relational Definition Communal sharing Asocial
Cognitive Modality Natural history/folk biology Technical
Behavior Explanation Desire based Cause or causal history based
distinguish the two forms of dehumanization. In com
munal sharing (CS), people feel a sense of deep unity
andsolidarity withother membersoftheirgroup,under
stand the group as a “natural kind” whose members
share “some fundamental bodily essence in common”
(Fiske, 2004, p. 69), and place great importance in the
categorical distinction between “us” and “them.” Fiske
basis and that this model underpins interethnic conflict.
Thesefeaturescalltomind theanimalisticform ofdehu
manization. The proposedroleofdisgust in the likening
ofothers toanimals isconsistent withthe contamination
concerns that prevail in CS relationships, disgust,
in turn, being occasioned by violations of communal
norms(Rozin,Lowery,Imada,& Haidt,1999). Animal
istic dehumanization may therefore occur in social con
People who dehumanize others in a mechanistic
fashion, taking an indifferent, instrumental, distancing,
and objectifying orientation toward them, may not
construe any social relationship to exist. Fiske (1991)
refers to “asocial” and “null” interactions, in which
people “disregard the existence of other people as so
cial partners” (p. 19) and assume no shared social
framework. Mechanistic dehumanization may there-
fore index the extent to which people see no related-
ness to others. If mechanistic dehumanization repre-
sents such a perception of lack of relatedness, it is
understandable that it should be apparent in interper-
sonal contexts, whereas animalistic dehumanization
may be more restricted to intergroup contexts, where a
communal dynamic is likely to operate.
Mithen (1996) has proposed that distinct forms of
intuitive understanding devoted to thinking about peo
ple, animals, and objects to be manipulated arose over
the course of hominid evolution. With the advanced
cognitive fluidity of modern humans these “social,”
“natural history,” and “technical” intelligences became
interlinked. Fluidity between social and natural history
modes enables phenomena such as anthropomorphism
and totemism, but also the sense that other groups are
“less than human” (Mithen, p. 196). The transfer of an
essentialist mode of folk-biological thinking (Medin &
Atran, 2004) into the social domain might underlie an
intuitive understanding of outgroups as akin to differ
ent species, as in animalistic dehumanization. This
possibility accords with the role attributed to essen
tialist thinking in infra-humanization (Leyens et al.,
2001). A similar slippage between the social and tech
nical domains could account for instances of mecha
nistic dehumanization. If other people are understood
as akin to objects or artifacts, “which have no emotions
or rights because they have no minds” (Mithen, p.
196), then they are free to be used instrumentally.
Self–other asymmetries in behavior explanation
may also illuminate dehumanization. Malle (1999, in
press) shows that people invoke “causal history” fac
tors more when explaining the behavior of others
than themselves, and invoke “reasons” (i.e., inten
tional states) less. These explanatory phenomena im
ply a more mechanistic view of the other, emphasiz
ing factors that are deterministic and attenuate
personal agency and de-emphasizing intentional
states. An animalistic view of others does not entail
explaining their behavior in a more causal, less
mentalistic fashion but may involve denying them
certain kinds of more refined intentional states (cf.
secondary emotions; Demoulin et al., 2004). Malle
distinguishes belief- and desire-based reason explana
tions, the former implying greater rationality and de
liberativeness. Given their lesser cognitive sophistica
tion, desire-based explanations should be given more
for the behavior of animalistically dehumanized oth
ers. Malle’s (in press) finding that people explain
their own behavior with less reference to desires than
the behavior of others makes this speculation more
plausible. Self–other asymmetries in behavior expla-
nations may therefore reveal subtle, everyday forms
Social categorization may also contribute to dehu-
manization. As Tajfel (1981) argued, depersonaliza-
tion is a common aspect of intergroup perception, as
evident in minimal groups as in warfare, although only
in the latter is dehumanization in a strong sense typical.
To Tajfel, depersonalization enables dehumanization
and can be placed on a continuum with it (Billig,
2002). The relevant form of dehumanization here is
mechanistic, as depersonalization involves a view of
others as fungible and lacking individuality. Consistent
with this claim, the attribution of greater HN to the self
than to others is reduced when the other is individuated
(Haslam & Bain, in press). For animalistic dehuman
ization to occur, a perception of the outgroup as lack
ing in UH characteristics would have to arise, perhaps
by the fear-mediated attribution to it of unrestrained
hostility. As Wilder (1986) notes, depersonalized or
deindividuated outgroups are often judged to be highly
threatening, in part because of their perceived
entitativity (Abelson, Dasgupta, Park, & Banaji, 1998).
In addition, recent evidence suggests that people may
infra-humanize members of outgroups whose suffer
ing is their ingroup’s collective responsibility in an ef
fort to disengage their self-sanctions (Castano &
Giner-Sirolla, in press). By these three means—effac
ing the individuality of outgroup members, encourag
ing an affect-laden view of the outgroup as a threaten
ing entity, and feeling collectively responsible for the
outgroup’s misery—social categorization may contrib
ute to both forms of dehumanization.
Several writers have noted the role of psychological
distance in dehumanization. Opotow (1990), for exam
ple, describes distancing as a form of moral exclusion
linked to the objectification of others and feelings of
unconnectedness to others as a basis for dehumaniza
tion. Trope and Liberman (2003)recentlyproposedthat
greater psychological distance is associated with con
struals of events, situations, and people that are rela
tively decontextualized and abstract. When people are
seen associally distant, theyare likelytobe perceived in
asimpleand impoverishedway,with greaterrecourse to
abstract traits than to “specific behaviors, beliefs, mo
tives, and intentions” (Trope & Liberman, p. 404).
These more abstract construals of distant others are
more likely to involve “cold” cognition-based judg
ments. Given its apparent links to shallower, “cooler,”
more distanced, and less intentional perceptions of oth
ers, abstractconstrual may be acognitivebasis of mech
Haslam and Bain (in press) found that the (psychologi-
cally distant) future self was attributed fewer HN traits
than the more concretely construed present self.
Empathy is often proposed as a requirement for
overcoming dehumanization (Halpern & Weinstein,
2004) and may have an especially intimate connec-
tion with the mechanistic form. The attribution of UH
attributes does not appear to be based on familiarity
(Cortes et al., 2005), which should be associated with
empathy, whereas the attribution of HN characteris
tics does (Haslam et al., 2005). These characteristics,
being more affective and deeply rooted, should also
be more pertinent to empathy, which involves an ac
tive engagement with other people’s inner thoughts
and feelings. Failure to empathize should be associ
ated with a perception of the other that is shallow and
emotionally impoverished, features of the mechanis
tic form of dehumanization.
Work on “empathy disorders” (e.g., autism, psy
chopathy, fronto-temporal dementia [FTD]; Preston &
de Waal, 2002) provides indirect support for this link.
These disorders are often described in the same terms
as mechanistic dehumanization, marked by a lack of
emotional depth, warmth, and prosocial concern. Peo
ple with autism have difficulty recognizing others’ be
liefs, wishes, and emotions (Baron-Cohen, 1995) and
are sometimes said to perceive others in rigid and me
chanical ways. Psychopaths show an attenuated auto
nomic response to others’ distress and deficient moral
concern for their well-being (Blair, 1995; Blair, Jones,
Clark, & Smith, 1997), and are often described as cold
and heartless. People with FTD are emotionally shal
low, lack feeling for others, and intriguingly appear to
show a decreased sense of the humanness of others
(Mendez & Lim, 2004; Mendez & Perryman, 2003).
This work therefore supports a link between mechanis
tic dehumanization and empathy deficits.
The aim of this article was to develop an account of
dehumanization that does justice to the diverse senses
and domains in which it has been identified, integrates
existing research and theory, and describes its psycho
logical underpinnings. The two proposed forms eco
nomically capture existing work and have theoretically
plausible associations with social–cognitive processes
that have not previously been discussed in this context.
denial of UH attributes, typically to essentialized
outgroups in the context of a communal representation
of the ingroup. It is often accompanied by emotions of
contempt and disgust that reflect an implicit vertical
comparison and by a tendency to explain others’behav-
ior in terms of desires and wants rather than cognitive
states. Mechanistic dehumanization, in contrast, in-
volves the objectifying denial of essentially human at-
logically distant and socially unrelated. It is often
accompanied by indifference, a lack of empathy, an ab-
stract and deindividuated view of others that indicates
an implicit horizontal separation from self, and a ten-
dency to explain the other’s behavior in nonintentional,
The proposed model is intended to extend the scope
of dehumanization as a concept. Rather than applying
only to extreme cases of antipathy, in which the denial
of humanness to others is explicit, dehumanization oc
curs whenever individuals or outgroups are ascribed
lesser degrees of the two forms of humanness than the
self or ingroup, whether or not they are explicitly lik
ened to animals or automata. In this extended sense,
the model might illuminate work on objectification
(Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) and stigma, following
up Goffman’s (1986) claim that “the person with stig
ma is not quite human” (p. 5). The two forms of dehu
manization might also serve as dimensions of stereo
type content (cf. Fiske et al., 1999).
useful framework for research. It is also unclear
whether its twosenses of humanness are widespread
cross-culturally. Wherever a Romantic view of hu
manness is not prevalent in lay conceptions, HN
in Western studies, and two distinct forms of dehu
manization might not occur. Additional forms of de
humanization, perhaps based on comparisons of hu
mansto supernaturalentitiesratherthananimals and
research and theory have conflated two distinct so
cial perception processes, then the model may pro
vide a productive foundation for future work.
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