Human, or Less than Human?

Not all group perception is based on ingroup- outgroup dynamics. Some stereotypes of social groups are widely shared within a community, and the content of these stereotypes also varies on our dimensions of humanness. For example, we have found that both male and female participants attribute more Human Nature traits to women than to men. Similarly, the Loughnan and Haslam (2007) study mentioned earlier showed that stereotypes of some social groups (e.g., businesspeople, police) portray them as lacking Human Nature and thus associate them with robots, whereas stereotypes of other groups (e.g., artists, children) portray them as lacking Human Uniqueness and associate them with animals.

These sorts of commonplace denials of humanness are now well-documented by social psychologists. Many of them are quite subtle, unconscious, and unaccompanied by group-hatred. There is clearly some distance between these phenomena and the sorts of extreme group perceptions that are usually described as "dehumanizing". However, we would argue that these more extreme phenomena – pejorative use of animal labels, objectification, actions that treat people as if they lack moral worth – have their roots in the kinds of everyday denials of humanness that we are studying. We suspect that these everyday denials can become overt and destructive under conditions of group conflict. The form that these overt expressions take can be illuminated by our model. Groups that tend to be seen as lacking Human Uniqueness attributes may come to be seen as animals under conditions of intergroup friction, and groups that are seen as lacking Human Nature attributes are at risk of being seen as unfeeling objects or mere cogs in a soulless machine. In any event, it should be a sobering thought that mild forms of humanness denial are pervasive in our everyday perception of groups.

Humanness in Person Perception

As we have seen, people seem to perceive some groups as more human than others. There is also a growing body of research showing that people see themselves as more human than other individuals. This tendency may be one of a number of "self-serving biases" that allow us to see ourselves in a positive light and protect our self-esteem (Leary, 2007). For example, people tend to rate themselves as "above average" on desirable attributes, claim responsibility for their successes but not their failures, and see their futures as more golden than their peers’. People even see themselves as less susceptible to self-serving biases than other people.

In our own research (Haslam et al., 2005), we have discovered that people tend to see themselves as having more Human Nature traits than the average person, a new bias that we call "self-humanizing". There is no corresponding tendency to see the self as above-average on Human Uniqueness traits. In other words, we tend to see ourselves as warmer, more emotional and more open than average, but not more rational, civilized and refined. By implication, the average person is seen as more robotic, but not more animal-like, than the self. Self-humanizing is also distinct from the tendency to see oneself as having more desirable attributes than average (the well-known "better-than-average" effect). In fact, we have found that people see themselves as having more undesirable  Human Nature traits than average.

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