PSYC12H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2.1: Superior Temporal Sulcus, Prefrontal Cortex, Likert Scale
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Dehumanized Perception: A Psychological Means to Facilitate Atrocities, Torture, and Genocide?
Dehumanized perception, a failure to spontaneously consider the mind of another person, may be a psychological mechanism facilitating
inhumane acts like torture.
- 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
- 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.
Dehumaized perception may be necessary to facilitate extremely inhumane acts like torture against other people, robbing them of their
- Social cognition is a higher-order cognitive process that people spontaneously recruit even to nonhuman targets, which seems to
require the belief, if only temporarily, that the target has “an internal life” – conscious cognitive and emotional experiences.
- People can spontaneously infer mental states even for targets without actual minds
- Dehumanized perception is a cognitive bias characterized by spontaneous failure to think about mental contents – thoughts and
feelings in a social target’s mind.
- Dehumanized perception may be related to the dehumanized target eliciting disgust instead of the at least partially positive social
emotions generally felt in the presence of other people.
- Members of social categories (e.g., homeless people, drug addicts) perceived as low on both warmth and competence reliably elicit
more disgust than do other social categories
- People may spontaneously think about the minds of other social targets who elicit social emotions such as pride (ingroups), envy
(business people), or pity (elderly, disabled).
- One indication of dehumanized perception may be reduced activation in the social-cognition neural network, including medial
prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and superior temporal sulcus (STS).
o A neural network critical for social interaction may disengage when people view these disgust-inducing people.
o Inferring preference, a mental-state inference, increases MPFC and STS activity to these otherwise dehumanized targets
- Participants report on a day in the life of different targets, before rating them on a # of potential human perception dimensions.
o This allows us to detect which dimensions differentiate dehumanized targets from other social targets.
- Different types of verbs and adjectives provide different levels of abstraction
- The most abstract, mental state verbs, describe actions in terms of the target’s internal state (e.g., quench).
- Then interpretive-action verbs that interpret the target’s action and finally descriptive-action verbs simply describe the action.
- Adjectives describe the person, mental-state verbs describe the mind of the person; interpretive-action verbs interpret the
behavior of the person; while descriptive-action verbs describe the behavior in terms of the verb’s object.
- People should use fewer mental-state verbs to describe a day in the life of dehumanized targets if perceivers fail to think about the
contents of the target’s mind.
- Participants Data came from 119 undergraduates during a group administration.
- The independent variable was the type of pictured social target.
- Two pretested pictures represented each quadrant of the warmth-by-competence Stereotype Content Model
- Participants first described a day in the life of either a “particular” or an “average” pictured social target between-subjects design.
- After imagining a day in the life of the social target, participants next rated the same social target on various dimensions.
- This page contained the same picture of the social target (whose typical day they had just described) and provided 7-point Likert
scales to rate: warmth, competence, similarity, familiarity, perceiver’s ease of attributing a mind to the target, perceiver’s ease of
inferring target’s disposition, perceiver’s empathy, responsibility of target for situation, control of target over situation,
articulateness, intelligence, complex emotionality, self-awareness, target’s ups and downs in life, and typical humanity.
- Participants use significantly fewer mental-state verbs to describe a day in the life of dehumanized targets
- Participants are spontaneously inferring the contents of the dehumanized targets’ minds less often than other social targets.
- No other type of verb or adjective is used differently to describe these or any other social targets.
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