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"They See Us As Less Than Human": Meta-Dehumanization Predicts Intergroup Conflict Via Reciprocal Dehumanization, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology


Although the act of dehumanizing an outgroup is a pervasive and potent intergroup process that drives discrimination and conflict, no formal research has examined the consequences of being dehumanized by an outgroup – i.e. ‘meta-dehumanization’. Across ten studies (N = 3,440) involving several real-world conflicts spanning three continents, we provide the first empirical evidence that meta-dehumanization (a) plays a central role in outgroup aggression that is (b) mediated by outgroup dehumanization, and (c) distinct from meta-prejudice. Studies 1a and 1b demonstrate experimentally that Americans receiving information that Arabs (Study 1a) or Muslims (Study 1b) blatantly dehumanize Americans are more likely to dehumanize that outgroup in return; by contrast, experimentally increasing outgroup dehumanization did not increase meta- dehumanization (Study 1c). Using correlational data, Study 2 documents indirect effects of meta-dehumanization on Americans’ support for aggressive policies towards Arabs (e.g., torture) via Arab dehumanization. In the context of Hungarians and ethnic minority Roma, Study 3 shows that the pathway for Hungarians from meta-dehumanization to aggression through outgroup dehumanization holds controlling for outgroup prejudice. Study 4 examines Israelis’ meta-perceptions with respect to Palestinians, showing that: (a) feeling dehumanized (i.e., meta-dehumanization) is distinct from feeling disliked (i.e., meta-prejudice), and (b) meta-dehumanization uniquely influences aggression through outgroup dehumanization, controlling for meta-prejudice. Studies 5a and 5b explore Americans’ meta-perceptions regarding ISIS and Iran. We document a dehumanization- specific pathway from meta-dehumanization to aggressive attitudes and behavior that is distinct from the path from meta-prejudice through prejudice to aggression. In Study 6, American participants learning that Muslims humanize Americans (i.e., meta- humanization) humanize Muslims in turn. Finally, Study 7 experimentally contrasts meta-dehumanization and meta-humanization primes, and shows that resulting differences in outgroup dehumanization are mediated by (1) a general desire to reciprocate the outgroup’s perceptions of the ingroup, and (2) perceived identity threat. In sum, our research outlines how and why meta-dehumanization contributes to cycles of ongoing violence and animosity, thus providing direction for future research and policy.




Nour Kteily, G. Hodson, E. Bruneau

Date Published



Kteily, Nour, G. Hodson, and E. Bruneau. 2016. "They See Us As Less Than Human": Meta-Dehumanization Predicts Intergroup Conflict Via Reciprocal Dehumanization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.(3): 343-370.


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