How horizontality contributes to dehumanization: Good people, bad people

The horizontal dimension, variously called warmth or communion, conveys being trustworthy and friendly. This dimension has several unexplored but potentially strong influences on dehumanization: moral judgments about deservingness, which reflect self-other distance, through cooperation/competition, resulting in (in)equality. Let’s take each issue in turn.

Combining warmth and competence distinguishes the deserving from the undeserving, as noted. Although both low-status SCM quadrants are dehumanized (pity objectifies and disgust animalizes), they differ on deservingness because they differ on apparent warmth of intent. The low-low groups are disgusting and undeserving because, allegedly, they do not even try to participate in society except by exploiting it (stereotypically, stealing, panhandling, depending on welfare).The low status but well-intentioned outgroups, in contrast, do deserve sympathy and help because at least they try to participate (e.g., older people who cooperate with orderly succession). As mentioned, if they cease to cooperate, they forfeit their protections. The terms deserving and undeserving poor capture the distinction, though both presume the observers right to judge them morally.

At the far end of status, deserving (warm) and undeserving (cold) groups also appear. The distinction between deserving rich and undeserving rich is less familiar but fits nonetheless. They, too, are judged on their intentions for good (comfortably well-off citizens, who share mainstream values and cooperate with society), but also for ill (successful outsiders favor their own group; rich people are self-serving).

The horizontal dimension could be viewed as cooperative/competitive interdependence, which reflects distance from self and ingroup. “Close” here means cooperative intent and therefore trustworthy; “far” means competitive/exploitative intent and therefore untrustworthy.

Combining the horizontal and the vertical creates a path to rehumanization

At a societal level, aggregating across groups, embracing and distancing means that social harmony creates an undifferentiated clump of groups (“we’re all New-Yorkers”;“a nation of immigrants”), all assimilated.The single, inclusive, multicultural ingroup should appear in the high-high part of the space. The SCM data find this in US states with the most longstanding diversity (Bai, Kamos, and Fiske, 2020). Across nations, the more diverse ones show a similar pattern.

In contrast, less diverse settings rate many groups with much intergroup distance—creating the typical SCM map that locates groups in all quadrants. Competitive interdependence ranks groups as more distinct; cooperative interdependence ranks them as more similar, and of equal value.

This logic explains why societies with more equality should view their broadly defined, inclusive ingroups as all together. Competition would be unnecessary, even dumb, and not nice. This is precisely what comparative data on nearly fifty nations show (Durante et al. 2013, 2017). In contrast, unequal nations accept competition and differentiate groups in more detail, as deserving and undeserving, by utilizing ambivalent stereotypes, spread out across SCM space.

Implications for dehumanization, open questions, future research, interventions

Framing dehumanization in Stereotype Content terms has several useful implications. First, SCM systematically predicts differing kinds and degrees of dehumanizing perceptions. Animalizing dehumanization reduces the person to a more primitive life form, but at least it’s alive. Mechanizing dehumanization reduces the person to being a robot, but at least it can move. Both animalizing and mechanizing are less awful than the third: Objectifying dehumanization reduces the person to a passive thing. Each form is stigmatizing and humiliating in its own way, as reflected by the respective emotional prejudices of disgust, envy, and pity.

These types follow from two fundamental dimensions, the consensus of several related theories, based on the groups’ perceived place in the social structure: up versus downward in status, and cooperative/close versus competitive/distant. The resulting narrative justifies unequal systems by separating the deserving and undeserving.

Novel, testable ideas follow from these two dimensions.The objectifying form of dehumanization has demonstrated its key features for sexualized women (Gervais 2013), but not, to current knowledge, for older or disabled people. All these groups forfeit their own agency and self-respect in exchange for being helped and protected. Exploring the similarities would break new ground.

Likewise, considering the similarities among envied groups’ dehumanization might shed new light on their respective predicaments. Anti-Asian prejudice correlates with over-estimating their numbers (Lin et al. 2005); is this true of all outgroups or mainly envied ones? Rich people evoke schadenfreude (Cikara and Fiske 2012); is this also true for Asians?

More work has separately examined dehumanized perceptions of immigrants, homeless people, and refugees (e.g., Esses et al., this volume). But rarely has that work drawn on their potential similarities to generate testable hypotheses.

To close on a more upbeat note: All this horror is malleable. Rehumanizing outcasts is not hard, at least in the lab. Considering the others lunch preferences attributes a mind (Harris and Fiske 2009).Teaming up with the other also attributes a mind (Ames and Fiske 2013). Priming cosmopolitan values changes charitable intentions to people around the globe (Bai et al. under review).The assistant professor in “Smart People” got it wrong; dehumanization may be people s first impulse, but it is not hard-wired. We can change it.

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