Decoding Dehumanization

A New Approach to Target Dehumanization

Dehumanization – perceiving other people as less than human – has accompanied mass atrocities and conflict throughout history. It has played an important historical role in the justification of violence and systemic discrimination against out-groups.

Research led by Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab and its scientific partners in 12 countries with over 10,000 people has helped identify the psychological processes and brain mechanisms that underlie and shape some of the worst impulses of human behavior. Through this research, we have developed a series of novel, validated measures of dehumanization. We have found that in every cultural context we have surveyed, at least one group is significantly dehumanized, and in every case, the degree of dehumanization expressed by individuals is strongly associated with support for identity-based hostility.

Workshop with local partners in Nigeria.

Beyond Conflict is currently developing and applying promising interventions aimed at measurably reducing dehumanization in real-world field settings. Initial findings offer practical actionable interventions for practitioners and policymakers on how to:

  • Systematically track dehumanization and dehumanizing speech to better understand the links between dehumanization and violence and create better early warning systems;
  • Design strategic messaging interventions that aim to effectively reduce dehumanization, likely aimed at reducing dangerous speech;
  • Monitor and evaluate programs and policies that aim to reduce dehumanization;
  • Train diplomats, advocates, practitioners, and policymakers to better detect and reduce dehumanization.

Inter-religious peace-building through brain and behavioral science

Our first project is based in Nigeria, a country that made the ‘top conflicts to watch in 2019’ according to the International Crisis Group. Beyond Conflict has launched a baseline study in the country, ahead of the potentially violent regional elections, to measure dehumanization and investigate the relationship between dehumanization and violence. Using the study results, Beyond Conflict co-designed interventions with its local partner, Equal Access International, aimed at reducing dehumanization and its violent consequences. With the support of the US Embassy in Nigeria, the evidence-based messages resulting from this research project serve as the basis of the project: “Inter-religious peace-building through brain and behavioral science.” The overall objective of this initiative is to contribute to a reduction in inter-religious conflict in Nigeria by measurably improving intergroup attitudes and behaviors between Christians and Muslims, training Nigerian peace-builders to combat dehumanization and hate speech in their communities, and increasing awareness of our approach in which science and practice inform each other to spur on new peacebuilding solutions.

We will leverage and expand the findings from our research project into a large-scale communication campaign that will reach tens of millions of Nigerians and hundreds of practitioners and researchers. The purpose of the campaign is to improve the relationship between Christians and Muslims by reducing inter-religious dehumanization, weakening beliefs in harmful tropes about each other, and reducing their support for violence against each other’s communities. By the end of the project, Beyond Conflict will spread knowledge about its novel approach to peace-building, one that integrates science and practice.

A second project focused on systemic discrimination in the US is in development. This project will be focused on reducing levels of dehumanization of out-groups subject to discriminatory practices and creating lasting cognitive shifts.

On May 2019, Beyond Conflict released a policy brief for practitioners and policymakers that advances understanding of dehumanization and suggests real-world applications for violence prevention.

In collaboration with their scientific research partners, Beyond Conflict developed a novel measure of dehumanization that has been tested in 12 countries with over 10,000 people. Research findings show that this measure predicts support for group-targeted harm and hard discriminatory policies.

Members of the Beyond Conflict team, Lead Scientist Dr. Emile Bruneau, Advisor Karen Bernstein, and Senior Program Officer Lee-Or Ankori-Karlinsky, presented the policy brief in a webinar session.

 

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