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Dehumanized Perception: A Psychological Means to Facilitate Atrocities, Torture, and Genocide?

Author(s): Harris, Lasana T.; Fiske, Susan T.

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Abstract: Dehumanized perception, a failure to spontaneously consider the mind of another person, may be a psychological mechanism facilitating inhumane acts like torture. Social cognition - considering someone's mind - recognizes the other as a human being subject to moral treatment. Social neuroscience has reliably shown that participants normally activate a social-cognition neural network to pictures and thoughts of other people; our previous work shows that parts of this network uniquely fail to engage for traditionally dehumanized targets (homeless persons or drug addicts; see Harris & Fiske, 2009, for review). This suggests participants may not consider these dehumanized groups' minds. Study 1 demonstrates that participants do fail to spontaneously think about the contents of these targets' minds when imagining a day in their life, and rate them differently on a number of human-perception dimensions. Study 2 shows that these human-perception dimension ratings correlate with activation in brain regions beyond the social-cognition network, including areas implicated in disgust, attention, and cognitive control. These results suggest that disengaging social cognition affects a number of other brain processes and hints at some of the complex psychological mechanisms potentially involved in atrocities against humanity.
Publication Date: 1-Jan-2011
Electronic Publication Date: 2011
Citation: Harris, Lasana T, Fiske, Susan T. (2011). Dehumanized Perception: A Psychological Means to Facilitate Atrocities, Torture, and Genocide?. Z Psychol, 219 (3), 175 - 181. doi:10.1027/2151-2604/a000065
DOI: doi:10.1027/2151-2604/a000065
ISSN: 2190-8370
Pages: 175 - 181
Language: eng
Type of Material: Journal Article
Journal/Proceeding Title: Z Psychol
Version: Author's manuscript

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