Perceiving Humanity or Not: A Social Neuroscience Approach to Dehumanized Perception

Lasana T. Harris, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

31 Scopus citations


Social neuroscience can be used to understand dehumanized perception, a failure to think about another person's mind (mentalizing). This extreme form of prejudice entails perceiving a person as less than, not quite, or not at all human. It is argued that dehumanized perception may be a psychological response to social targets who elicit the negative basic emotion disgust. The chapter reviews social neuroscience data showing that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)-an area implicated in mentalizing and social cognition-is not as active for these dehumanized targets as for other social targets. It then reviews subsequent social psychological predictions generated by the neural data; these data show that participants fail to think about the minds of these dehumanized targets to the same extent as other social targets. Participants also describe these dehumanized targets as ill-intentioned, inept, unfamiliar, dissimilar, strange, and not uniquely human or quite typically human. The chapter concludes with a discussion of some factors that may moderate dehumanized perception, perhaps relevant to the hope of reducing some of the thought processes and emotions that underlie human atrocities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSocial Neuroscience
Subtitle of host publicationToward Understanding the Underpinnings of the Social Mind
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199893324
ISBN (Print)9780195316872
StatePublished - May 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Dehumanized perception
  • Medial prefrontal cortex
  • Mentalizing
  • Prejudice
  • Social cognition
  • Social neuroscience
  • Social targets


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