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.

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 will co-design interventions with its local partner aimed at reducing dehumanization and its violent consequences. 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 BruneauProject Lead Karen Bernstein, and Senior Program Officer Lee-Or Ankori-Karlinsky, presented the policy brief in a webinar session.


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