Dehumanization: How People Succumb To Racism and Discrimination

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Dehumanization: How People Succumb To Racism and Discrimination

Dehumanization is making another group seem less human and not worthy of humane treatment / Photo by Vjacheslav_Kozyrev via Shutterstock


Perceiving other people as less human has several grave consequences. Dehumanizing, as this perception is called, can result in immoral acts. It can cause people to engage in more acts of violence, violate other people’s human rights, as well as start wars and ultimately, genocide.

In the study conducted by Nour Kteily, Emilie Bruneau and Sarah Cotorril, it was revealed that some people see other races as less evolved. They demonstrated this in their research with the title The Ascent of Man: Theoretical and Empirical Evidence for Blatant Dehumanization, by performing an experiment which involved using an image which shows the evolution of mankind. It showed how the human ancestor gradually learned how to stand on two legs and became a completely evolved being, Vox says.

The subjects were then told to evaluate from one to 100 how evolved they believed certain races to be. The groups that they rated were Arabs, Russians, Swedes, Americans, Muslims, and Australians. Although most participants rated other groups as fully human, there were some who rated specific groups as being more like animals. Kteily concluded that people have the amazing capability for cooperation. However, they also have the capacity to ostracize.

Psychologist Nick Haslam, the world’s leading expert on the study of dehumanization, states the dehumanization does not just happen during a war but it is actually currently happening at the moment. He says that there are individuals who may not consider themselves as being “prejudiced bigots” but they often become prejudiced themselves.


Dehumanization is seeing the opponent as an evil monster / Photo by Prazis Images via Shutterstock


What Is Dehumanization?

According to Michelle Maeise, a research staff at the Conflict Research Consortium, dehumanization is defined as “ the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.”

She further elaborates that this is an extension of making the opponent or other group have an “enemy image”. As the conflict between the groups continues to ensue, the way they view their opponent becomes influenced by their negative feelings for each other such as distrust, fear, and anger. When this happens, they start to attribute negative characteristics to each other. They may see their opponent as devoid of any virtues or as an evil monster.

Enemy image, Maiese explains, refers to “a negative stereotype through which the opponent is viewed as evil, in contrast to one’s own side, which is seen as good.” This can spring from wanting to form a group identity as well as wanting to distinguish their unique attributes and morals from another group. In some instances, this will create evil-ruler images.

Additionally, there is no in between for enemy images. One side is either totally good or totally evil. The group tends to only keep track of the negative actions of their opponent which they believe represents their evil ways. They are not able to acknowledge their own shortcomings and the other motivations and values of the opposing side.

After the formation of enemy images, it will be hard to change these views. Eventually, these images will spread and escalate the conflict. Since the opposing side is now seen as a diabolical enemy, is now viewed in the context of a war between good and evil.

This enemy images become even more emphasized through projection, a process wherein individuals attribute their own imperfections to their opponents.

The Process of Dehumanization

Psychology Today says this is the process of dehumanization:

Insinuating that the other group has lower intelligence or moral standards

To make the minority group feel excluded, the majority group must highlight how superior they are compared to them. The majority group will make certain that the groups different from them are substandard.

Comparing the group to animals and using infestation analogies

The Nazis employed this strategy during the Holocaust by equating Jews to rats. They use this comparison in various kinds of propaganda such as speeches, artworks, posters, and films. Another example is what occurred during the Rwandan genocide. Tutsis were regarded by the Hutu authorities as cockroaches that they should rid the world of. In order to make them appear less human, the majority group may use infestation analogies so that others deem them as pests.

Threats of violence

In this phase of dehumanization, it transforms from a prejudicial issue to a predecessor of violence and danger. If a majority group’s leader instructs them to be violent against a minority group, they will usually obey without question. They will just submit to this propaganda because it has been inculcated in their minds that the people who belong to the other group are not human. Therefore, since the minority group has been dehumanized, they barely need to consider the morals and the consequences of committing violent acts against them.

Disconnecting the group from society

This is the final and most extreme step in the process of dehumanization. There are several ways that a dehumanized group can be removed or eliminated from the society.  Some of the methods that are used are the creation of ghettos, deportation and the use of camps.

As stated by the effect of dehumanization is that “once certain groups are stigmatized as evil, morally inferior, and not fully human, the persecution of those groups becomes more psychologically acceptable. Restraint against aggression and violence begin to disappear.”




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