Who Says You're Mindless? The "Out-Group."

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Researchers have come up with some really clever ways to plumb the unconscious. Recently, they explored the way we dehumanize our fellow primates that happen to reside on the other end of the political spectrum. Of course, this was an American study, because here our equivalent of the gladiators and Colosseum are people we think are brilliant pundits vs. idiots on television. Here, polarization is the sport and vituperation is our bread and circus.

The researchers in this study morphed faces somewhat away from human by changing their shape toward inanimate faces (e.g., statues and dolls) and found that people tended to rate people with opinions different from their own as having less in the way of minds. They did this with less face morphing for these different-thinking folks than they did with their same-thinking folks. The article in Science Daily goes into more detail. But what an interesting way to see how well-programmed we are to see certain types of people as less-human than ourselves--and quite automatically.

An interesting wrinkle in the statistics was that the more of a threat a person felt the other group represented, the more likely they were to perceive the people they viewed as having minds. Is this from some primeval impulse to avoid underestimating a threat posed by a rival tribe?

At least Democrats and Republicans can rejoice in another thing they have in common. They not only share a desire for freedom and justice, but they also think each other are mindless--unless they are feeling especially threatened.

The Science Daily Article

Democrats, Republicans see each other as mindless, unless they pose a threat

The abstract from the research

Group membership alters the threshold for mind perception: The role of social identity, collective identification, and intergroup threat

Human faces are used as cues to the presence of social agents, and the ability to detect minds and mental states in others occupies a central role in social interaction. In the current research, we present evidence that the human propensity for mind perception is bound by social group membership. Specifically, we show how identification with different social groups influences the threshold for mind perception. In three experiments, participants assessed a continuum of face morphs that ranged from human to doll faces. These faces were described as in-group or out-group members. Participants had higher (i.e., more stringent) thresholds for perceiving minds behind out-group faces, both in minimal (Experiment 1) and real-world groups (Experiment 2). In other words, out-group members required more humanness than in-group members to be perceived as having minds. This intergroup bias in mind perception was moderated by collective identification, such that highly identified group members had the highest threshold for perceiving minds behind out-group relative to in-group faces. In contrast, Democrats and Republicans who perceived the other party as threatening had lower thresholds for perceiving minds behind out-group faces (Experiment 3). These experiments suggest that mind perception is a dynamic process in which relevant contextual information such as social identity and out-group threat change the interpretation of physical features that signal the presence of another mind. Implications for mind perception, dehumanization, and intergroup relations are discussed.
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