Daily Archives: July 30, 2006

Research on dehumanization.


What You Think But Don’t Say

You may fancy yourself a lover of all humanity, but according to a new study out of Princeton University, when confronted with extreme social outcasts, such as drug addicts and homeless people, your brain may unconsciously categorize them as less than human.

Neuroimaging research to be published in the October issue of Psychological Science shows that the stereotyping of groups as being sub-human can happen on an unconscious, neurological level, even when a person is not outwardly repulsed.

“People spontaneously categorize other people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and they do that within milliseconds of encountering other people,” said Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, a co-author of the study.

I wonder if many people instantaneously view autistics the same way. That would, if so, explain the reactions I’ve seen of open revulsion when some people see images of me or other autistic people. If people openly say things like that, I don’t want to know what people’s brains are doing about it.

I also wonder how it relates to within-group interactions. If a person is a member of whatever devalued group they’re talking about, are they going to have this reaction despite being that “kind of person”? (Or, are some people going to?) Like, do some autistic people have this reaction to other autistic people? Etc.

During some of my worst periods of self-hatred, to see another person who reminded me of myself (being autistic or something similar) created an instant sense of hostility and revulsion. I’ve seen autistic people trying to distance themselves from Those Other Autistic People, too. If these are more or less conscious attitudes, what are our unconscious reactions? (By unconscious, I mean the reactions that we’re not consciously aware of. I don’t mean the psychoanalytic unconscious, which I don’t believe in.)

They talk about people judging others in terms of “warmth” and “competence”, and people being more likely to dehumanize those that they consider “low warmth” and “low competence” in combination. Surely that is how autistic people and many other disabled people are perceived by most people. And people routinely view us and many others as expendable, sometimes even explicitly.

I just hope this doesn’t become an excuse to say that bigotry and hate is biological and can’t be helped.