Blatant dehumanization in the mind’s eye: Prevalent even among those who explicitly reject it?

Christopher D. Petsko*, Ryan F. Lei, Jonas R. Kunst, Emile Bruneau, Nour Kteily

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Research suggests that some people, particularly those on the political right, tend to blatantly dehumanize low-status groups. However, these findings have largely relied on self-report measures, which are notoriously subject to social desirability concerns. To better understand just how widely blatant forms of intergroup dehumanization might extend, the present article leverages an unobtrusive, data-driven perceptual task to examine how U.S. respondents mentally represent “Americans” versus “Arabs” (a low-status group in the United States that is often explicitly targeted with blatant dehumanization). Data from 2 reverse-correlation experiments (original N = 108; preregistered replication N = 336) and 7 rating studies (N = 2,301) suggest that U.S. respondents’ mental representations of Arabs are significantly more dehumanizing than their representations of Americans. Furthermore, analyses indicate that this phenomenon is not reducible to a general tendency for our sample to mentally represent Arabs more negatively than Americans. Finally, these findings reveal that blatantly dehumanizing representations of Arabs can be just as prevalent among individuals exhibiting low levels of explicit dehumanization (e.g., liberals) as among individuals exhibiting high levels of explicit dehumanization (e.g., conservatives)—a phenomenon into which exploratory analyses suggest liberals may have only limited awareness. Taken together, these results suggest that blatant dehumanization may be more widespread than previously recognized and that it can persist even in the minds of those who explicitly reject it. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
StateAccepted/In press - 2020


  • dehumanization
  • intergroup relations
  • mental representations
  • prejudice
  • reverse correlation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Developmental Neuroscience

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