Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuroimaging Responses

Report
DEHUMANIZING
THE LOWEST OF THE LOW:
NEUROIMAGING RESPONSES
TO EXTREME OUT-GROUPS
Lasana T. Harris and Susan T. Fiske
Princeton University, 2006
Introduction - Prejudice
Allport (1954), father of prejudice research
 Antipathy based on a perceived social category
Not as “black and white” as like/dislike – different
types of prejudice
Extreme forms of prejudice may deny their targets full
humanity
Stereotype Content Model (SCM)

Predicts differentiated prejudices
1.
2.

Friend-foe judgment (warmth)
Capability judgment (competence)
Societal groups:

intend either help or harm, are either capable or
incapable of enacting these intentions
Stereotype Content Model (SCM)

4 combinations of the dimensions  4 emotions towards social
groups
1. Pride
2. Envy
3. Pity
4. Disgust

Not all groups provoke animosity

Competent + warm = middle-class, pride and admiration

Competent + not warm = rich people, envy and jealousy

Warm + incompetent = elderly people, pity and sympathy
Stereotype Content Model (SCM)
Low warmth + low competence = most extreme outgroups, disgust and contempt

Based on perceived moral violations and subsequent
negative outcomes these groups allegedly cause
themselves

Dislike and disrespect

Extreme discrimination:
 Excluding
out-groups from full humanity
The Medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC)

fMRI data:
mPFC differentially activated in social compared to
nonsocial cognition
 especially when required to make social judgments
about people

“Social groups falling into the low-warmth/lowcompetence quadrant of the SCM might not
significantly activate the mPFC”
Participants

22 Princeton University undergraduates, for course credit

Right-handed

Reported no abnormal neurological condition, head trauma, brain lesions

Normal or corrected vision

Mean age across the two studies: 19.5 years

12 participants were women

6 were ethnic minorities
Method

Participants shown images of
Different social groups (Study 1, 10 subjects)
 Different objects (Study 2, 12 subjects)


Assessed each picture



which of the four SCM emotions best described how the
image made them feel
Once inside the scanner, once outside
Blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal changes
recorded
The Images
Study 1

48 colour photographs of eight different social groups
Study 2

Eight images of objects, each shown three times each
Each study had six filler neutral images
Each picture depicted one of the four SCM quadrants

254 undergraduate students had pretested 80 images:

“How much of the following emotions does this picture make you feel?” on a
5-point scale

ANOVA, t-tests – only pictures with reliable effects selected
Results – Study 1
Support for the dehumanization hypothesis


Participants identified the predicted emotions for
the pictures of the social groups
Outside scanner: low-low rated higher on disgust
Results – Study 1

Significant mPFC activity for pride, envy, pity

No activity above significant threshold for disgust
Results – Study 1

Did find that there was activation in the left insula
and the right amygdala

Insula – disgust

Amygdala - fear
Results – Study 2



No mPFC activity above baseline for disgustinducing objects
Small yet significant mPFC activation for objects
inducing envy
Pride, envy, pity: social emotions felt during
presence (implied or actual) of a person
 Participants
reported envy towards an object only if
the presence of a person was implied (stack of money)
Discussion

Used to investigate and reduce “hate crimes, prisoner abuse”

Clear to read

Focus on previous research and the introduction

Almost no discussion

Specific examples of extreme out-groups

What eight social groups shown – which ones elicited disgust

Significance of testing inside and outside the scanner
Discussion



Rating of photos to standardize

Done by Princeton students as well: more likely to have similar opinions
as their peers – no random sampling for study or standardization

Objects induced people’s emotions when they weren’t meant to
In study 2, the pictures were repeated three times, to be
consistent: have 48 pictures as well
Amygdala and insula mentioned only in passing – study that
further to see if combined that is what they imply or if its
only when they are separate


Aspects that make people feel this way – living conditions,
inability to relate
What manipulations/changes could make people not feel this
way

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