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Feeling less than human: exploring the causes and consequences of dehumanisation from the target's perspective

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posted on 2022-03-28, 02:23 authored by Samantha Adams
Research on dehumanisation has typically examined the factors that lead individuals to dehumanise others. This dissertation is significant in that it is among the first attempts to empirically investigate dehumanisation from the perspective of the dehumanised individual. Chapter 1 reviewed the literature and discussed the importance of investigating dehumanisation from the perspective of the victim. Chapter 2 explored the range of experiences people view as dehumanising. A qualitative study using recalled dehumanising episodes investigated who respondents identified as the perpetrator and their emotional reactions to dehumanisation. The results of Study 1 showed that dehumanisation occurs on a continuum ranging from extreme cases of ongoing abuse to single instances of light ridicule. Further, dehumanisation was more likely to occur within the context of the victim’s social network rather than with outgroup members or socially distant others. Emotional reactions to dehumanisation commonly involved intense feelings of shame, anger and sadness. Social exclusion was found to be a dehumanising experience in Chapter 2. Using a quasi-experimental design, the study in Chapter 3 investigated whether experiences of animalistic and mechanistic dehumanisation negatively impact the fundamental needs including belonging, control, self-esteem and meaningful existence. The findings revealed that experiences of animalistic dehumanisation are just as likely as exclusion to threaten the fundamental needs. Whereas, experiences of mechanistic dehumanisation are less likely to threaten one’s sense of self-esteem and belonging compared to being excluded. The results from the first two studies indicated that dehumanisation often occurs within close relationships. Following this, the study in Chapter Four investigated the characteristics of relational dehumanisation. Participants described an autobiographical event in which they had been made to feel less than human in a close relationship. The results suggest that dehumanising events tend to fuel a cycle of shame and contempt between the victim and perpetrator particularly when it was perceived as intentional. The study in Chapter 5 investigated the effects of dehumanisation in a common relationship that involves trust and disclosure of personal information—the doctor patient relationship. After reading a vignette depicting the treatment philosophy emphasising either the metaphor of the body as a machine (dehumanising condition) or emphasising individual uniqueness (humanising condition), participants imagined attending a consultation with the doctor regarding a psychological or physical illness. As expected, medical dehumanisation had undesirable consequences for most patients. However, the findings also suggest the intriguing possibility that some patients, particularly men would prefer a dispassionate, dehumanising doctor so they might better control their emotions. This finding has implications for medical professionals suggesting that adopting a dehumanising approach might improve treatment for some patients. The final chapter (Chapter 6) provides a brief review of the findings and discusses the merits of investigating the target’s perspective for improving understanding of the causes and consequences of dehumanisation.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction to dehumanisation -- Chapter 2. Qualitative experiences of dehumanisation -- Chapter 3. The effects of dehumanisation on fundamental needs -- Chapter 4. Dehumanisation in close relationships -- Chapter 5. Mechanistic dehumanisation in medicine -- Chapter 6. General discussion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 134-154

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Trevor Case

Additional Supervisor 1

Dick Stevenson


Copyright Samantha Adams 2014. Copyright disclaimer:




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