• Determinants and Consequences of Dehumanization: An Interspecies Model of Prejudice

      Costello, Kimberly; Department of Psychology (Brock University, 2013-01-14)
      Dehumanizing ideologies that explicitly liken other humans to “inferior” animals can have negative consequences for intergroup attitudes and relations. Surprisingly, very little is known about the causes of dehumanization, and essentially no research has examined strategies for reducing dehumanizing tendencies. The Interspecies Model of Prejudice specifies that animalistic dehumanization may be rooted in basic hierarchical beliefs regarding human superiority over animals. This theoretical reasoning suggests that narrowing the human-animal divide should also reduce dehumanization. The purpose of the present dissertation, therefore, was to gain a more complete understanding of the predictors of and solutions to dehumanization by examining the Interspecies Model of Prejudice, first from a layperson’s perspective and then among young children. In Study 1, laypeople strongly rejected the human-animal divide as a probable cause of, or solution to, dehumanization, despite evidence that their own personal beliefs in the human-animal divide positively predicted their dehumanization (and prejudice) scores. From Study 1, it was concluded that the human-animal divide, despite being a robust empirical predictor of dehumanization, is largely unrecognized as a probable cause of, or solution to, dehumanization by non-experts in the psychology of prejudice. Studies 2 and 3 explored the expression of dehumanization, as well as the Interspecies Model of Prejudice, among children ages six to ten years (Studies 2 and 3) and parents (Study 3). Across both studies, White children showed evidence of racial dehumanization by attributing a Black child target fewer “uniquely human” characteristics than the White child target, representing the first systematic evidence of racial dehumanization among children. In Study 3, path analyses supported the Interspecies Model of Prejudice among children. Specifically, children’s beliefs in the human-animal divide predicted greater racial prejudice, an effect explained by heightened racial dehumanization. Moreover, parents’ Social Dominance Orientation (preference for social hierarchy and inequality) positively predicted children’s human-animal divide beliefs. Critically, these effects remained significant even after controlling for established predictors of child-prejudice (i.e., parent prejudice, authoritarian parenting, and social-cognitive skills) and relevant child demographics (i.e., age and sex). Similar patterns emerged among parent participants, further supporting the Interspecies Model of Prejudice. Encouragingly, children reported narrower human-animal divide perceptions after being exposed to an experimental prime (versus control) that highlighted the similarities among humans and animals. Together the three studies reported in this dissertation offer important and novel contributions to the dehumanization and prejudice literature. Not only did we find the first systematic evidence of racial dehumanization among children, we established the human-animal divide as a meaningful dehumanization precursor. Moreover, empirical support was obtained for the Interspecies Model of Prejudice among diverse samples including university students (Study 1), children (Studies 2 and 3), and adult-aged samples (Study 3). Importantly, each study also highlights the promising social implication of targeting the human-animal divide in interventions to reduce dehumanization and other prejudicial processes.