Welcome to my Reddit AMA, and thanks for your interest! My name is Nour Kteily. I'm currently a professor of management and organizations at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, where I teach negotiation and conflict resolution. I’m trained as a social psychologist, and my research focuses on the psychology of social hierarchy and inequality. Recently, my colleagues (especially the awesome Emile Bruneau at the University of Pennsylvania) and I have been doing a lot of work to understand the role that dehumanization plays in provoking cycles of conflict around the world, and thinking about ways to counteract its consequences. Here’s a link to a podcast I was on last year discussing tribalism, and some of my public writing about my work here and here.

Ask me anything!


EDIT: All right everyone, I'm going to have to step out for a while. I promise to do my best to come back and answer the questions I couldn't get to, so keep them coming. It's been wonderful reading all of your very thoughtful questions! Some might even say I found it a humanity-affirming exercise :-)

Comments: 884 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

suaveitguy703 karma

Is 'us vs them' too ingrained that we will never transcend it? How fast can our minds create an enemy in someone else we were otherwise always totally neutral towards?

nour_kteily669 karma

There's a lot of work suggesting that Us vs. Them tendencies are a very common feature of human psychology. Mina Cikara and colleagues (along with my frequent collaborator Emile Bruneau) have done some fascinating work in this area (see http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/20/3/149.short). People like Josh Greene at Harvard psych have also written extensively about us vs. them tendencies (see his book Moral Tribes). Some work suggests that even group membership created on highly minimal grounds (like whether you overestimate or underestimate the number of jellybeans in a jar) can generate ingroup favoritism. So, I do definitely think that we have a high capacity for intergroup hostility.

That said, I don't think these dynamics are insurmountable. Josh Greene and Paul Bloom and others have written about using rational thought/compassion to overcome intergroup biases. In some of my own work linked above (in my intro), we've been showing how to reduce the tendency to blame entire outgroup (e.g., all Muslims) for the acts of a few (ISIS attackers). Other work has shown that creating common goals between groups can reduce animus. As people like Steve Pinker have pointed out, we've also made tremendous gains in reducing inter-group violence across human history through creating certain norms (like universal human rights) and institutions (like the E.U. and other entities that link groups to one another economically and politically). So, it's hard, but not insurmountable!

BLOKDAK20 karma


ourannual59 karma

Steven Pinker goes by Steve, so people in the psych field usually call him "Steve". (Source: also in the psych field)

nour_kteily88 karma

Indeed. No disrespect was implied. I actually took a class in which he was one of the instructors, from which I learned a great deal during my graduate studies.

suaveitguy358 karma

Do social networks and big data make people dehumanize one another? Any difference between anonymous social networks and ones where users have to use their real identity?

nour_kteily460 karma

There are a few reasons why it might: some subtle forms of dehumanization involves simply treating others like a number (for example: thinking of an athlete as nothing more than his/her stats). This is facilitated to some extent, I would think, by the social distance. You're less likely to see an athlete as nothing more than his/her RBI if you were sitting face-to-face with them. Interacting online versus in person similarly creates a social distance, and removes not only social cues that can reduce misunderstandings but also reduces the "social tuning" behaviors we engage in when we're actually face-to-face with someone. Work on drone strikes versus face-to-face combat relatedly suggests that it's easier to kill someone when you're pushing a button thousands of miles away. I'm not sure if there's work specifically on anonymous social networks vs ones where people use their real identity, but my guess is that anonymity would facilitate any nasty tendencies by removing the reputational concerns that are a major part of human psychology.

genmischief81 karma

drone strikes versus face-to-face combat

Easier to do vs greater burden on the troops post action. Either way, its a sticky wicket.

test822115 karma

the main issue with drone strikes is that drone operators usually watch and do surveillance on their target for days or even weeks before pulling the trigger.

so they see him going about his daily life, kiss his wife, giving his friends high fives, playing xbox, tying his shoes, throwing a pizza box in the trash can but then realizing he didn't look at the temperature and time so he has to get it back out and look, etc, you get the idea. And they come to relate to these people as humans. then they have to press a button and watch them explode on the FLIR into a pile of smoking white jelly. it might actually be easier to just be on the ground and shoot a dude imo, depending on how close he is. at least then you don't have to watch him give his daughter a hug.

inimitabletroy98 karma

Here is a link to an article that says that drone pilots deal with PTSD just as much as soldiers who are fighting face to face.


nour_kteily38 karma

Interesting. Thanks for sharing. Will read carefully soon. I wonder whether— despite the similar PTSD in the long run— it is still easier to initially 'pull the trigger' when one isn't facing the 'target' face-to-face. My intuition suggests that it would be, but it seems like an area ripe for research...

snowbabiez223 karma

Hi Nour,

One of your colleagues (Waytz) referred to dehumanization as "reverse-anthropomorphism". Do you think that the tendency to dehumanize and anthropomorphize others share the same social, motivational, and cognitive basis? For example, a person who see human where they shouldn't (in animals, God, clouds, etc) also is more likely not to acknowledge human traits in actual humans?

nour_kteily191 karma

Hi! Fascinating question. I have to admit that I'm not especially expert on the bases of anthropomorphism, but to the best of my knowledge, the tendency to see humanity in non-human entities is importantly facilitated by a lack of social connection (e.g., loneliness; think Tom Hanks and Wilson in Cast Away). One reasonable prediction, then, is that fulfilling the need for social connection with other humans might reduce the tendency to ascribe humanity to other entities (even to other humans). As far as I'm aware, there is indeed some evidence supporting that prediction.

Some people have theorized that a lack of social connection and a sense of social isolation contribute to the dehumanizing attitudes of extremist groups, but there has not yet been solid empirical confirmation of that. Even if that is one important factor, I think that there are others that are likely not shared with the tendency to anthropomorphize: for example, there is good reason to think that feeling physically threatened by another group predicts overt dehumanization of them; I suspect that physical threat would be less relevant to the tendency to anthropomorphize.

snowbabiez38 karma

Thanks for your response! Actually I think that feeling physically threatened might contribute to the perception of unpredictability. When people feel like the other group (or people) are unpredictable, there might be an associated sense of loss of control.

In the act of anthropomorphism, sometimes people ascribe human traits to non-humans possibly in at attempt to make them more predictable (e.g. my dog is wagging his tail, he must be happy, maybe this thing that I did made him happy, I should do this more). Perhaps the sense of unpredictability involved in a group that might physically hurt them will contribute to the tendency to dehumanize them, just like how minority groups are often prejudiced against based on a significantly different cue (i.e. skin color).

nour_kteily28 karma

Interesting! That could be. It might be helpful to read up on "effectance motivation", which I think would be relevant to your idea.

coryrenton154 karma

Are there any dehumanizing tendencies you've found that are unique to the academic setting? Do you have any latitude in deploying countermeasures within your department or the surrounding school?

nour_kteily227 karma

I'm not sure how unique academia per se is in this regard, but like other workplaces with a hierarchy, I think it's quite likely that those occupying a higher rank (e.g., professors) sometimes overlook the minds of those who occupy a lower rank (e.g., graduate students), potentially sometimes treating them as means to an end. I've not tackled this issue specifically in my own work, but I think it's incumbent on those with higher ranks to engage in perspective taking and remind themselves that they're dealing with human beings on the other side.

mattreyu135 karma

What kind of effect long-term do you expect from the dehumanization of people who supported the president? While I can certainly understand where people are coming from, there seems to be a lot of "they're not even people" being thrown around.

nour_kteily226 karma

One of the disconcerting things about working in this area is seeing just how dehumanizing the rhetoric has become across party lines. I'm of the mindset that robust critique is undoubtedly necessary, and I don't think that we can or even should avoid speaking out strongly against issues when we think its our duty to do so (for example, speaking out against intolerance). That said, I don't think it's helpful or productive when we dehumanize those we disagree with, even those we disagree with to our core. For one, it makes the other side that much less likely to listen to us and engage with us. And secondly, our work on meta-dehumanization (i.e., feeling dehumanized by others) suggests that dehumanizing another is only likely to provoke their own dehumanization of you (provoking vicious cycles of conflict). To change someone's mind you need to see and appeal to their mind; dehumanization doesn't help on that front.

MasterLJ96 karma

Reddit is a good test ground for examining dehumanization, especially when it comes to political views. Most political views are siloed into their own subreddits. Those who choose to participate outside their silo will be buried in downvotes, meanwhile, the aggregate viewpoint of the sub forms some type of median viewpoint of the participants. When you don't adhere to the median viewpoint, you will be dehumanized.

Typically, a well thought response to a provocative question, such as the one you gave, will result in the AMA author's response yielding a higher upvote count than the question asker. That is not the case with this response (as of now, but it's still early... EDIT: This seemed to fix itself, was 5 to 3 when I posted, it's now 8 to 14... all is right with the world), which makes me wonder if some people are having a negative visceral reaction towards allowing their political opposition to be human.

A great example is the Nazi-punching conversations that occur from time to time. There seems to be a growing sentiment that violence towards extreme viewpoints is justified, and furthermore, a move to justify that other people's words are violence. I can understand the argument, but what is scary is that the "Nazi" label is now being distributed by the same group that is advocating violence. The "Nazi" label is being very liberally applied to those who hold conservative views.

Sorry for jumbled post, but my questions for you:

  1. How do you we stop the cycle?
  2. Is Reddit a platform that amplifies dehumanization, or helps stifle it?

nour_kteily56 karma

To copy from my response to a similar point by Diblythedude below on the Nazi point:

"I'd say it's dehumanizing to the extent that the people using the term intend it to liken whoever they're imbuing with to animals (i.e., to the extent that they see Nazis as subhuman). Whether it is or isn't dehumanization, I'm not sure it's the most helpful or productive approach, as I think there are more effective ways to level vigorous critique while still appealing to someone's mind. I don't have to agree with you, but if I acknowledge your humanity (despite being clear that I don't agree with your perspective), I'm much more likely to be able to get through to you (and less likely to make you lash out and continue whatever behavior I'm against)"

To answer the other questions:

  1. It's not easy, but I think it takes conscious effort to push ourselves to try our best to engage with the minds of those we disagree with and who we might otherwise be inclined to dismiss out of hand. I find it helpful to try to imagine the most charitable reason for why someone might hold a view I find abhorrent, and starting from there. I also think it's incumbent on us to call out our own group members when they engage in reflexive dehumanization of political opponents or those who express opposing views. Vigorous debate is a crucial part of innovation (see for example the dangers of groupthink for group performance), and playing devil's advocate for one's own position can improve the clarity of one's own thinking.

  2. As with many media, I think Reddit has both the potential for both harm and good. It depends on how it is used. Some of what I've seen from the Reddit community includes incredible acts of empathy and all-around goodness (rallying behind a person or a community in need, or even just providing helpful advice to others just to help out). Other times, and as with other media platforms, the anonymity can bring out baser instincts, and/or good intentions can go awry (the incident in trying to identify the Tsarnaev attackers comes to mind). The key isn't so much the platform, it's how we put it to use.

Dilbythedude30 karma

Do you believe that referring to a group of people with different beliefs as"Nazis" is dehumanizing? Would you say that those doing that are trying to provoke conflict with that specific group, or are there many other factors playing into this as well?

nour_kteily42 karma

I'd say it's dehumanizing to the extent that the people using the term intend it to liken whoever they're imbuing with to animals (i.e., to the extent that they see Nazis as subhuman). Whether it is or isn't dehumanization, I'm not sure it's the most helpful or productive approach, as I think there are more effective ways to level vigorous critique while still appealing to someone's mind. I don't have to agree with you, but if I acknowledge your humanity (despite being clear that I don't agree with your perspective), I'm much more likely to be able to get through to you (and less likely to make you lash out and continue whatever behavior I'm against)

sapphon63 karma

It occurs to me that, even if we're maximally successful at getting most folks to humanize most other folks, sociopaths will become more of a glaring problem the more successful we are. I also believe that sociopathy is currently mostly an advantage in our business climate.

So, we're in a position where improvement would mean ousting a lot of the people currently in positions of power over our society. I don't see a way forward in that situation, because they won't let that happen and no amount of humanist arguments are going to make them.

tl;dr if dehumanization continues to be profitable, how will opposition to it rise above a token level? Our society already permits almost any heinousness in the name of profit, if practiced judiciously and impersonally. (We won't let you rape for money - that's personal - but we'll let you sell rape whistles that don't whistle).

nour_kteily59 karma

Hmm, I see what you mean, but I'm not sure I necessarily agree with the premise that sociopathy is inevitably profitable. This isn't directly related to your question, but I was reminded of a recent paper arguing the hedge fund managers with psychopathic tendencies actually generated worse returns (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167217733080?journalCode=pspc). Adam Grant (see his book "Give and Take") has very compellingly argued that "Givers" rather than "Takers" tend to achieve more effective outcomes in business, so long as they are not "doormats", so to speak. In the language of game theory and iterated prisoner dilemmas, in the long run, it's useful to achieve the benefits of mutual cooperation by orienting towards cooperation and seeking to bring that out in others, but individuals ought also to be 'provokable' (i.e., resorting to 'defecting' if the other party continues not to cooperate... the so-called tit-for-tat strategy described by Robert Axelrod).

I'd also note that to the extent that social norms prohibit or punish dehumanization, it will become that much less profitable. Prior to this election cycle, much of the dehumanizing rhetoric espoused would have been a campaign-ender. That was in part due to the social backlash against those who contravened the norm not to dehumanize.

OwenChillson52 karma

Hey Nour,

I saw you speak at my girlfriends graduation from msms this past year, I came up and complimented you for your speech afterwards, as you were incredibly eloquent, entertaining, and effective.

How do you feel knowing you’ve made countless boyfriends/girlfriends lives harder by being such a good a good negotiations professor?

nour_kteily89 karma

Ah yes— I remember! That was very kind of you, and much appreciated (public speaking is nerve-wracking!). And, if I taught my students well, then hopefully their partners' lives will be better off and not worse, because of all the mutual value creation ;-)

SerTurtle39 karma

I've been looking for a comprehensive introductory resource on this subject for a while, but put it on the backburner as I'm so ignorant about it I didn't know where to look or begin. Do you have any plans to write a book, or could recommend any for layman-level audiences?


nour_kteily45 karma

No book plans as of yet, but if you'd like a short primer of mine on the topic written for a wide audience, I'd recommend my paper (linked in the intro) titled "Darker Demons of our Nature". I also highly recommend Haslam and Loughnan's 2014 paper (http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115045?journalCode=psych). In terms of books, I enjoyed David Livingstone Smith's "Less than Human".

Oh_Look_You_Broke_It4 karma

"Less Then Human" was one of my textbooks for a class I took. It is short and easy to read!

nour_kteily3 karma

Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

Khaledk27 karma

Hi Nour, thanks for doing this. This is especially timely given political developments in the US.

How can we make links between dehumanization in the workplace (private sector) and in government policies (public sector)? Is it expressed in similar ways? Do you counteract it the same way?

And are you more likely to find it in certain fields or positions? e.g. Is a CEO more or less likely to dehumanize? What about a President?

nour_kteily29 karma

Great question! Distinguishing types of dehumanization is important, and different types are more likely to be operative in some contexts than others. Relative to the political and inter-ethnic domains— where overt/blatant forms of dehumanization (actively characterizing another group as 'animals') can be common (especially in the presence of conflict)— dehumanization in the workplace is likely to stake on more subtle forms. For example, a boss is more likely to 'overlook' the mind of an employee, or objectify them by seeing them as an instrumental means to an end. Sometimes when people subtly dehumanize, they don't even notice that they're doing it, which is less likely with blatant forms of dehumanization.

For those reasons, these types of dehumanization probably require different 'solutions' to counteract them. When you point out to a boss that they're overlooking the humanity of an employee, they might be horrified and seek to correct their behavior. That's less likely when someone consciously deems another group as animals. Then, you have to do more work to challenge the bases of their dehumanizing views (for example, by pointing out the hypocrisy in people's tendency to blame an entire group for the actions of a few of its individuals).

The last part of your question speaks to the role of power in dehumanization. This is a complex question, without one clear answer: there is some evidence, yes, that those who occupy positions of power are more likely to overlook and objectify the minds of others than vice-versa. And, to be sure, much classic dehumanization 'flowed down' the power hierarchy, with more powerful groups like colonizers dehumanizing their 'subjects'. But in recent work, we've been showing that, in the presence of active conflict (like war), even a lower power group can dehumanize its high-powered adversary (we think this is because when a group is on the receiving end of violent conflict and sustaining heavy losses, they're likely to see the other side as 'savage' animals without a heart).

Dean40325 karma

What are your thoughts on Jordan Peterson from University of Toronto?

nour_kteily39 karma

I haven't followed the details closely enough to comment on him personally. A general comment regarding my view on free speech: although our ability/right to speak freely is absolutely worth defending, I do think it's incumbent on us to reflect carefully about how what we say affects others. Sometimes there are hard tradeoffs and we will fall down in favor of speaking rather than staying silent.. but not everything that we have the right to say needs to be said...and if we do say it anyway, I think it's crucial that we do so in the most compassionate and kind way possible and in such a way that acknowledges the negative effects it might have on others.. "separate the people from the problem", to quote Roger Fisher and William Ury (from "Getting to Yes", a classic negotiations text).

That_One_Kiid21 karma

In a world where globalization and open migration are becoming more common, how do we successfully integrate the new immigrants so that the native population doesn't feel displaced, and the immigrant population doesn't feel isolated and unwelcome?

nour_kteily24 karma

I think the key thing is to recognize human potential for goodness and think about ways in which to work with new immigrants to bring the best out of them. Although this often gets lost in the weeds of the rhetoric, it's actually a very difficult experience for most immigrants to leave their home countries, and many of them are doing it not because they want to but because they feel they need to. I also believe that most migrants or refugees are genuinely grateful (at the very least in principle) to their hosts countries. Where things go awry is when they feel unwelcome, denigrated, and dehumanized. To the extent that they feel valued and respected, it's much more likely that they will not only be productive members of society but also that they will both embrace and contribute in important ways to the social fabric of their host communities. I found this story to be quite touching: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/25/world/canada/syrian-refugees.html and as someone who spent time in Canada and witnessed the benefits of multicultural policy done right, I'm a big believer in the benefits of seeing the best in others.

That_One_Kiid11 karma

Thank you for your answer. But in the same vein, how do we help the native population to not feel dehumanized and displaced in their own homes?

nour_kteily23 karma

I think it's incumbent on immigrants too to be respectful of their host communities. But I genuinely think that the rhetoric suggesting that they are inclined not to is overblown. I think that when people feel welcomed and accepted, their natural instinct is to be grateful and to try to be accommodating.

Hammeria20 karma

Is it really recent though? Weren't people even more cruel and hateful in past years? How can you proove people are more dehumanizing in the past than now? It seems like only recently any significant rise of activism is on. Thanks

nour_kteily32 karma

I don't think that blatant dehumanization is recent, but I do think that recent changes in social norms in the U.S. and other parts of the world have made it more acceptable in recent times. This is one nice empirical demonstration of changes in social norms relevant to intolerance (http://www.nber.org/papers/w23415)

suaveitguy14 karma

I have heard some writer or comedian, I forget who, theorizing that a big event like WW2 pulled people from their regions that otherwise wouldn't have left and combined them in teams with people they otherwise wouldn't have really bonded with. They thought that the end result was a much more unified country, and a lot more appreciation for the complexities of the 'New Yorker' or 'redneck' or whatever stereotypes they would have otherwise had. Is there any truth to that? Did exposure to each other have enormous societal benefits?

nour_kteily35 karma

I don't know this particular anecdote (perhaps you are referring to accounts of improved attitudes towards African Americans after the war effort?), but this idea is very consistent with the tenets of the so-called "intergroup contact theory" proposed by Gordon Allport, and subsequently expanded on by scholars like Tom Pettigrew and Linda Tropp and others. The idea is basically that part of intolerance comes from a lack of contact with others, and that when we actually come together (especially when we are working as part of one group towards a common goal and where we share equal status) that can change negative stereotypes and attitudes for the better. There is evidence from people like Dora Capozza (see e.g., http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0170554) suggesting that contact can reduce more subtle forms of dehumanization. Emile Bruneau and I are now finding evidence that the same is often true for more overt forms of dehumanization, too.

At the same time: a few words of caution. People like Tamar Saguy and John Dixon have shown that sometimes contact between high-power and low-power groups can improve inter-group attitudes, leading the low-power group to expect structural changes (e.g., power-sharing) that is not necessarily forthcoming, and can create a backlash.

womenhaveovaries14 karma

Have any sociologists looked into the role over-population might play? Not everyone enjoys being stacked in cramped spaces or living in communities with a high people per square mile density. The more people in the world and the less free space, the more I hope for calamities and disasters.

I didn't used to feel this way. There used to be more empty land, more green spaces between towns. Now housing and people are everywhere. When I was a kid I could ride my bicycle from one town to another thirty miles away, lots of farmland. Now forty years later, there's 100 houses on that same route when there used to be 10. I no longer get upset when I hear that hundreds or thousands of people died in some accident or disaster. Instead, I'm like good, hope those remaining quit breeding. I used to feel SAD when I heard about people dying! Their suffering mattered to me. Now I'm just like, oh well, there's already too many people.

nour_kteily18 karma

Hi womenhaveovaries (I can't help but enjoy the irony of your username!).

Yes, the world is growing rapidly, and my guess is that population growth— combined with human migration resulting from war and the consequences of climate change— have heightened the stakes of intergroup dynamics. I hear what you mean when you say that life is getting tougher and more competitive, and I distinctly remember the feeling when I saw how hard it was to get a job for college graduates right around the financial crisis.

That said, human capacity for achieving incredible things through cooperation at large scale (think for example of the LIGO efforts with hundreds of scientists working across the world!) means that—leveraged wisely— our numbers can be a boon rather than a zero-sum proposition. It's still a big world out there, with enough space for all of us... and research shows that, at least on a national scale, immigration actually improves economic outcomes rather than hurting them (of course, this economic gain then needs to be distributed fairly via policy). When we dehumanize entire groups (like refugees and migrants) we give up the potential for mutual gain and help bring about tensions we could avoid.

Personally, when I'm feeling cynical about the world, I find it re-invigorating to watch documentaries (especially from the BBC) about some of the incredible things humans have accomplished working together.

CalMcCool13 karma

Are you aware of dunbar's number? Does it hold credence as to why people do this?

nour_kteily22 karma

I am aware of Dunbar's number, yes. I'm not sure that it explains why people dehumanize necessarily, but it may well be that cooperating across vast numbers of people (i.e., billions, rather than the 150-person tribes we were a part of for much of our evolutionary history) is more challenging for us. But that's not to say we can't accomplish it.

discipleOfTea6 karma

The problem is imo that backstabbing/betrayal can reap greater benefits than cooperation. The only counterplay is either securing yourself against it by assuming an adversary as default or built relationships up where you know you can trust the person. The latter however takes time which limits the ammount of people you can built trust with.

nour_kteily9 karma

I'm not sure that the statement that "backstabbing/betrayal can reap greater benefits than cooperation" is true in multi-shot transactions. Overcoming the prisoner's dilemma and achieving mutual cooperation can be incredibly valuable. Robert Axelrod's work on iterated prisoner's dilemma tournaments (fascinating, if you're not familiar with it) suggests that a more effective approach is a tit-for-tat strategy: orient towards cooperation (given its benefits) but be provokable— if someone consistently 'defects' (i.e., backstabs, cheats, etc.) then orient away from cooperation in turn. See also Adam Grant's book "Give and Take".

Abhean10 karma

Hi Dr. Kteily,

I'm interested if you have any experience with/thoughts about the purpose and function of storytelling in regards to the restoration and rehumanization of disenfranchised individuals and groups? He's coming from a more anthropological point of view, but Michael Jackson's "The Politics of Storytelling" explores the importance of storytelling - from both ends - to human experience, and specifically its importance in maintaining a sense of both personal and societal agency in the face of a world that seems indifferent or actively hostile to one's existence.

Do you have any thoughts on how we - as both storytellers and spectators in the human arena, from stories as seemingly unimportant as our day-to-day conversations to those as culturally influencing as mass-distributed major-media productions - can work to use the stories we tell to effectively combat dehumanization? What can those who are not members of specific disenfranchised groups do to actively participate in the cultural storytelling process positively - beyond simply listening/spectating - without further dehumanizing these groups and individuals by drowning out their voices?

nour_kteily16 karma

Hi! Thanks for the great question. I don't know that there's been a ton of work about the role of storytelling in the domain of rehumanization, but I think you'd find the following work by my colleague Emile Bruneau very interesting and it seems consistent with your account: (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0140838)

Interestingly, other work of Emile's suggests that perspective-giving is even more effective than perspective-taking for disempowered group members who don't feel heard: (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103112000297)

suaveitguy10 karma

How will the reproducibility crisis in your field play out?

nour_kteily17 karma

My hope is that the current methodological reforms and the seriousness with which the field is taking them will continue to improve the robustness of psychological science. I think it's great that psychologists have been motivated to increase the field's rigor, and it's good to see that this awareness is spreading to several other disciplines, too.

Kativla10 karma

Is there any research on strategies for the (subtly) dehumanized to effectively "push back" in hierarchical relationships? I ask because I recently ran a small graduate student workshop on strategies for taking care of one's mental health and being maximally productive. One of the topics was managing relationships with advisors and other faculty--i.e. strategies to make the relationship(s) more collaborative and less authoritarian over time.

I tried to keep it positive, but there was an underlying theme that the goal is to get faculty to remember that you are human (while still being productive and pushing yourself). Being treated like a work robot is a real issue that many graduate students face, sometimes to the point that they are treated as if though their having human issues or a personal life is a nuisance. The strategies I presented (e.g. being proactive/meeting regularly, being organized, developing strong personal/professional boundaries, etc.) were pulled from members of my department and my own personal experiences; I'm wondering if there's any research to back up those anecdotes.

nour_kteily10 karma

Thanks for the thoughtful question. I don't know of research on this specific question, but it seems like it's ripe for people to do work on. I would check out some work on the consequences of workplace dehumanization (see e.g., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4173804/ ; and for a different perspective, see the work of Ed Orehek: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1745691617691138)

With respect to practical advice for graduate students: It's interesting, but professors get very little training on how to be effective mentors. It's a trial-by-error enterprise, and I think it's more challenging than it might appear on the surface. I think this is sometimes compounded by the fact that faculty are often a self-selected group of hyper-motivated individuals who might remember (or misremember) having worked relentlessly in graduate school and expect the same of everyone around them (especially when they themselves are under significant pressure to amass a large body of work prior to being reviewed for tenure).

I bet that there is a high proportion of advisors who might be oblivious to the fact that they aren't doing a great job at making their students feel whole/human, even though they might be shocked at realizing that that's how they're coming off. The existence of that group (different from those who knowingly abuse their power) seems like it presents an opportunity to improve things.

This is made more difficult by power dynamics, but one thing I would recommend is that students have an honest and open conversation about expectations early on in an advising relationship. I think good mentorship requires open communication, and early. Both sides need to figure out whether it's a good fit— and on what terms— and if it isn't, it's better to lay that out on the table. It's hard/awkward to communicate, but I believe most faculty to be professional enough to accept and support a student who finds that their interests are no longer aligned with a particular project or feel like they'd be a better fit with a lab with a different culture or working style.

K12ish8 karma

What's the smallest thing that people can adapt into their everyday lifestyle to prevent them from being angry?

Edit: Crappy English

nour_kteily42 karma

Force themselves to imagine the most charitable plausible reason for someone else's behavior before responding to it by escalating.

thesheeptrees8 karma

Hello -

I'll try to be brief; do you believe it's possible to teach a social narrative in which people become a "society of kings" - all on the same team as one another?

Among friends many of us seem able to develop a non-tiered peer relationship where cool guys aren't a threat to other cool guys and among us form a miniature version of the Polynesian "big man" economy. Now that we have a global communications and memory network (the internet) do you believe such an economy of reputation can encompass a single team society of billions and promote an enumerable incentive to not dehumanize others?

(Also shout out to Arizona metal band Dehumanizer of whom this AMA reminded me)

nour_kteily17 karma

Fascinating question. I think that's the goal. I also think it's a non-trivial (read: very very difficult) undertaking. Some work suggests that it's easier when your prime people to think that humanity has a common enemy. Like, if we were to be invaded by martians, it might be easier for us to band together. I'd like to think that we could 'trick' ourselves to band together towards something more productive (and in the case of my example, no less existential)— like, for example, ensuring that our planet will continue to be habitable long into the future.

hilldex8 karma

Your title nonchalantly assumes a "recent advance in dehumanization". What evidence supports this? (Compared to 10, 20, 50 years ago)

nour_kteily9 karma

Copying from my response to Johndelfino below:

"I should have been clearer. I meant recent rise in so far as comparing the past one-two years to the five-ten preceding them. And to be even more specific: I suspect that this has more to do with the willingness to express dehumanization openly than the likelihood of holding dehumanizing beliefs internally. You're right that human history is replete with examples of dehumanization such as slavery and genocide (e.g,. Rwanda, WW2)."

The_Unreal7 karma

How does it mean to "dehumanize" someone, exactly? Is there a checklist of actions or traits you refer to in your work?

Do you have any insights or recommendations for leaders in work environments to help them "remember the human?" Maybe a book I can toss at people?

nour_kteily17 karma

I recommend that you pass any books out gently rather than tossing them, lest they perceive your delivery device to be at odds with your message ;) My colleague Adam Waytz is coming out with a book in 2018 called "The Power of Human" that I expect to speak very directly to some of the issues you mention (including managers).

What it means to dehumanize someone is a complex question subject to substantial informative debate. It depends also on what type of dehumanization you mean precisely (e.g,. are you overlooking someone's humanity subconsciously or are you actively likening someone to animals). I study mostly the latter type, and, for me, overt dehumanization implies actively ascribing a given target with animalistic traits like "savagery", "primitiveness", and/or a "lack of self-control". Usually, we see those who we actively dehumanize as beneath us, and outside the spectre of our moral concern. That is, those we don't give those we dehumanize the same moral consideration that we would others we consider peer humans.

fuckinghelldad2 karma

What it means to dehumanize someone is a complex question subject to substantial informative debate. It depends also on what type of dehumanization you mean precisely

Are any of the commonly used definitions quantifiable?

nour_kteily2 karma

Yes, although more work is still needed to precisely map out how all of these definitions relate to one another. Dehumanizing by denying someone the capacity to think and feel can be captured by the "mind perception scale" (see the work of Kurt Gray and Dan Wegner, among others). Dehumanizing someone explicitly by overtly likening them to savage and barbaric animals can be captured by the "Ascent of (Hu)Man" scale linked to in my work (note that we advocate looking not only at that one-item scale, but a list of animalistic attributions, available in Kteily et al., 2015, JPSP, Table 14).

Other more subtle measures (such as infrahumanization; see the work of Jacques-Philippe Leyens' and colleagues) examine the capacity to experience complex emotions. Still other work focusing on mechanistic dehumanization (seeing someone as a 'machine') looks at the tendency to (not) ascribe traits central to human nature (like curiosity), even when these traits are not necessarily unique to humans.

One important dimension on which these measures vary is the extent to which the person making the attributions is consciously aware that they are stripping away a target's humanity, a distinction we have made in our work by speaking about subtle versus blatant forms of dehumanization (for a review, see the paper linked above titled "Darker Demons of our Nature" by myself and Emile Bruneau, in press in Current Directions in Psychological Science)

grammeofsoma6 karma

While Social Dominance Orientation is associated with Right Wing Conservatism and racism, is there or has there been a scale developed that accounts for dehuminization in an anti-hierarchical manner?

You mentioned earlier that increased immigration is associated with economic gain. However, increased diversity in a given population is also associated with a lowering of social capital, Jonathan Haidt.

There are conservatives who may be concerned with the lowering of social capital, but may not be racist. What construct(s) best accounts for the dehuminization of conservatives by liberals, i.e. those who are quick to dismiss conservatives as "racist" if they speak of immigration concerns?

nour_kteily8 karma

To be clear, social dominance orientation is not intended to capture dehumanization per se (although it is correlated with the dehumanization of low status groups in society, like Muslims and Latinos). Rather, social dominance orientation reflects the belief that hierarchy in society is a good thing.

It is not the case that individuals low in social dominance orientation can't or don't express negative views towards others. In some recent work, we've been finding that individuals low in social dominance orientation express lower empathy for harms afflicting members of high-status groups (e.g., bankers), consistent with their preference for making society more equal (a motive which requires lifting those at the bottom and/or bringing down those at the top).

With respect to dehumanization by liberals: in recent work, we find symmetrical dehumanization across the political spectrum.. that is, liberals and conservatives appear to equally dehumanize one another (and to a dramatic extent at that). The nature of the dehumanization differs slightly: liberals tend to dehumanize conservatives by deeming them savage, primitive, and heartless. Conservatives tend to dehumanize liberals by deeming them infantile— characterizing them sort of like little children that can't be trusted to face up to difficult decisions.

casualgardener6 karma

Hi Professor, I'm a cognitive science grad with substantial interest in this subject. One book I read while working on my thesis that I found to be enlightening was Lasana Harris' book Invisible Minds. I was curious if you were familiar with Lasana Harris' work and if you had any thoughts about it.

One thing I found particularly interesting was Harris' suggestion, as you've pointed to in some of your responses, that dehumanization when selectively employed can be beneficial to the dehumanizer. I'm wondering whether you think dehumanization, whether or not it's individually beneficial, is societally beneficial in any context and what makes dehumanization acceptable in that context?

nour_kteily13 karma

Hi, I am indeed aware of Lasana Harris' work in this area— his work (along with Susan Fiske) was some of the very first work to examine neural processes linked to dehumanization, an important step.

In my view, there are some limited contexts in which some forms of subtle dehumanization can be 'beneficial', or put another way, might contribute to prosocial ends. One example proposed by others is the surgeon working in an operating room. If the surgeon explicitly focuses on the patient's humanity (e.g., capacity to experience pain) during surgery, it might be that much more difficult for them to operate effectively. That said, I think that most forms of overt dehumanization (actively deeming another group as lower animals) have insidious consequences.

acidmonkey6 karma

What effect do you think VR will have at humanizing our interactions and experiences online / digitally?

nour_kteily6 karma

My sense is that the jury is still out. Intuitively, it seems like it would be useful in increasing perspective taking. That said, whether that's true remains to be seen. My best guess is that it will help somewhat, but it won't be a full replacement for in-the-flesh interaction.

roiben6 karma

How drastic of a change do you think will be needed to make to counteract dehumanization? Will it be subtle changes or a sort of a "system overhaul"?

nour_kteily12 karma

The system definitely matters, but beyond that social norms are also hugely impactful (as the work of recent MacArthur award recipient Betsy Levy Paluck has shown in the domain of school bullying and prejudice against LGBTQ communities). For example, I suspect (although I don't myself have data on this) that the mass protests that came out in support of the Muslim communities after the ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries was first implemented did a great deal to make the community feel humanized. Somewhat consistent with this: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/2/15/14625018/pew-survey-muslims-atheists-religion

suaveitguy5 karma

It seems like if a person/group takes a strong position, that's almost all it takes to define and solidify an opposition. e.g. some people who wouldn't have though twice about transgender washroom access will be vehemently against it the second they hear someone is fighting in favor of it, and vice versa.

How could an activist take a stand initially that will minimize that polarizing backlash?

nour_kteily10 karma

I think the key is to engage the other side's capacity for reason. Too often, people try to convince by speaking down at another rather than engaging in humble perspective taking. When I teach my students about negotiation, one of my key messages is that in order to get what you want (even if you are motivated by self-interest rather than broader value-creation), you need to understand the mind of the other side and make your requests in ways that appeal to their perspective, too. People like Robb Willer and Matthew Feinberg have done some awesome work on how to persuade across partisan lines, which shares the emphasis on speaking to the other side through their own lens on the world (see for example: https://www.ted.com/talks/robb_willer_how_to_have_better_political_conversations). Note that this is not the same as simply giving in or not standing up for what you believe in.

Krissy_loo5 karma

What can schools do to counteract online bullying?

nour_kteily9 karma

I would check out the amazing work of Betsy Levy Paluck on the topic of school bullying (albeit not online): https://www.princeton.edu/news/2016/01/04/students-influence-over-peers-reduce-school-bullying-30-percent

15SecNut5 karma

Has wide spread dehumanization always been prevalent in human society or is it a relatively new thing, at least to this extent?

nour_kteily3 karma

Dehumanization is not a new phenomenon (it played an important role, for example, during colonization and slavery).. but in the past couple of years, the levels of its expression in public discourse in the U.S. have been higher than in the past 5-10 years.

H13133034 karma

You insisted that you don't think we should ever dehumanize another person even if we disagree with them "to our core". So what do you think of ISIS members?

Another question: Is you work being supported by agencies that could utilize them in conflict-zones or locally since it seems everyone seems to classify people as either with "us" or with "them"?

nour_kteily7 karma

I find ISIS and its policies to be completely abhorrent and condemnable. I also don't think it's productive to simply deem them animals and move on (especially when this then is then extended to totally separate individuals who share very little in common; the same mistake that would be made in deeming all whites culpable for the actions of the KKK).

I think it is incumbent on us to understand the factors that led other human beings onto the path they took, and work to change minds. I find the group "Life After Hate" remarkable and noteworthy in this regard: this is a group of former white nationalists who left the movement and now work hard to promote tolerance and help other white nationalists leave the movement. It would be easy to simply write off as subhuman animals others whose views we find completely objectionable. But I don't subscribe to the view that there is something inherently non-human and irredeemable about large groups of individuals.

entropizer4 karma

that dehumanization plays in provoking cycles of conflict

In this study, why did you take the alt-right Mturkers at their word when they assigned low levels of humanity to their ideological opponents? My inclination is to interpret their responses as significantly (though not entirely) nonliteral, a general expression of negative sentiment through the tool you provided them. I guess what I'm asking is how we can distinguish between dehumanization as rhetorical flair and dehumanization as internalized belief. While these feed into each other somewhat, I think there's still a lot of difference between them.

nour_kteily7 karma

We don't argue that alt-righters are necessarily making their attributions on our "Ascent" scale literally. They might not necessarily think that the targets are biologically less evolved, although this is a question that we are now examining empirically (early indications suggest a non-trivial component of responses on the Ascent scale do in fact correspond with perceptions of genetic inferiority). Even if they (or any other groups who dehumanizes on the Ascent scale) are doing so metaphorically, we think that is still important. Even if you don't literally think that another group are animals, if you frame them as such and ascribe them with a series of animalistic traits characteristic of certain lower animals, that can still play an important role in coordinating/motivating/rationalizing aggression.

Glendezza4 karma

Kellogg's school of management? Like about the cereal?

nour_kteily11 karma

Just Kellogg (not Kellogg's). And although there's no direct link today, apparently the names both share a relation to the Kellogg family!

johndelfino4 karma

Can you speak specifically to what you mean by the "recent rise"? Speaking as someone uneducated in this matter, it feels like there are examples throughout the history of civilization that seem to be examples of dehumanization -- slavery, for example, spans the vast majority of written history. How has it risen? What is recent in this context? Thanks!

nour_kteily4 karma

I should have been clearer. I meant recent rise in so far as comparing the past one-two years to the five-ten preceding them. And to be even more specific: I suspect that this has more to do with the willingness to express dehumanization openly than the likelihood of holding dehumanizing beliefs internally. You're right that human history is replete with examples of dehumanization such as slavery and genocide (e.g,. Rwanda, WW2).

rulerofallyousurvey4 karma

i have a question, how is your name pronounced?

nour_kteily6 karma

"Noor" (rhyming with lure).

zankovic3 karma

Less related to your specific field but you did say ask anything! Do you have any advice for young people interested in a career in academia?

nour_kteily8 karma

Speak to those in your field of interest at length to make sure you truly understand what it means to pursue a doctoral degree. If it's feasible, try to get some experience during your undergraduate training or beyond actually doing research (as a research assistant or as part of an honors thesis). Doing research is very different from taking classes, and requires a great deal of passion, a thick skin, and a willingness to be very patient. Most importantly, make sure that you're fully informed about the job prospects: academia produces many more PhDs than it has academic jobs to sustain them with. Non-academic jobs can be a great option, too, so make sure to position yourself in such a way as to have the maximum flexibility (Acquiring skills like statistical training and coding during grad school can be incredibly helpful in this regard)

the_twilight_bard3 karma

Have you looked at social media? It seems obvious to us kids that Facebook just makes you hate everybody, but you academic old timers may not be privy to that experience. It seems like anytime you deal with a person's avatar a distance is created where mysabthropy via envy or even self hatred can slip in.

Edit: meant to write misanthropy, but phone was not having it.

nour_kteily2 karma

I haven't looked at Facebook myself. But the work of some others (like Ethan Kross at UMichigan) suggests that facebook can make people unhappy (mostly because of excess social comparison and feelings of low self-esteem that can result).

DustyCornSyrup2 karma

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve encountered/realized while studying the recent rise in dehumanization?

nour_kteily13 karma

Two things, one negative and one positive:

  1. I was pretty amazed at the levels of blatant dehumanization we've been observing, both generally, and especially in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Czech Republic). I suspected we'd find some overt dehumanization, but have been pretty shocked at its extent.

  2. Some of the work I'm most excited about is a recent paper led by my colleague Emile Bruneau (as well as Emily Falk). We've found that simply having White Americans first reflect on how responsible they are for the acts of violence of specific group members (e.g., Dylann Roof's killing in Charleston in 2015) is able to reduce the tendency to blame all Muslims for the acts of groups like ISIS: we don't think of ourselves as responsible for extremists within our groups, and when we're reminded of that, we become less likely to blame all outgroups for acts by some of their members. It turns out that this can itself reduce dehumanization, too. Finding such a short & simple intervention that can reduce intergroup hostility was very gratifying.

defacemock2 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA, and I'll follow up with your links during the day.....here's my question: I've read that frequent, mundane exposure to people with whom we disagree is the best way to reduce dehumanization. But, with the hyper-personalization of news intake, internet searches, social media, and even shopping destinations, how can we engender these frequent exposures to different people and viewpoints? Is this something you think we should strive for?

nour_kteily8 karma

I do think it's worth striving for, yes. Preferably in person, too. The internet and anonymity have a way of rendering productive political debate more challenging than it often is in person. Getting out of one's ideological bubble can be a humbling and gratifying experience.

uoht2 karma

Is dehumanizing bad? I think no, because it keeps our empathy from going out of control.

Imagine always thinking about how many people literally don't have food to eat, that the hunger and resulting irritation and weakness you feel when you go more than a day without food is the helpless reality of so many people for large durations of their lives. Not even children, there are many adults who can't always acquire food to eat in some areas of the world. How do I not let it take over my moral consciousness?

Or when I see an old person working a menial job not because of choice but because of a lack of choice. Imagine being old and having to work in spite of not having the physical and mental strength to do so to keep yourself in clean surroundings and not die. I imagine myself in that place and try to feel it, I imagine my parents in that place and try to feel how I would feel.

There are many things like this, when I see them, my empathy (or something else?) goes into overdrive. It's not a problem, as the things I typed above take 5 to 10 seconds to think and feel in my brain. But to carry on with my life, I try to forget about it and consciously concentrate on the thing at hand.

Is that dehumanization? I feel scared to think about all this.

nour_kteily6 karma

Interesting question. You might enjoy Paul Bloom's writing on the topic ("Against Empathy"), as well as my colleague Adam Waytz' recent article in the Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2016/01/the-limits-of-empathy).

Your questions touches on the distinction between dehumanization by commission (i.e., actively dehumanizing someone) versus by omission (overlooking someone's mind).

I don't claim that you ought to feel the suffering of everyone at all times. You're right that that could become counterproductive by leading to emotional burnout (there's some work on this in the medical context). But actively denying the humanity of another group by likening them to animals can motivate aggression and not just indifference. I also think that you can avoid emotional burnout without necessarily diminishing the humanity of others. There's a difference between not feeling the emotions of someone else viscerally all the time and denying that they are also humans experiencing regrettable suffering— doing your part however you are able to sustainably do it in order to help.

PinnochioPro2 karma

Here's my question..thinking within the context of dehumanization of course. Do you think that policing in the U.S as it relates to members of minority communities...contributes to dehumanization in our society today?

2 reasons I ask...just as anything else the more something is shown in the media the more "normal" it seems to become regardless of morality. We constantly see police kill unarmed black and brown people and we see the same song and dance..news coverage...officer gets off people are mad...Repeat.

In my opinion this works as a former of propaganda as an agent to reinforce the thought that black and brown lives are not as valuable as others...

Taking into account that the US is known as a global leader that other countries look to as an example....do you feel that this issue...if continued will lead to normaliziation of dehumanization in other regions?

Sorry if my question isn't clear....it sounded wayyy better in my head

nour_kteily8 karma

I'm actually doing some work to examine this right now. I do think that individuals look to their social context (including the media) for an understanding of how they are seen in society. And the message that the lives of one's group aren't equally valuable can have detrimental effects, including making individuals themselves likely to dehumanize the "offending" outgroups. Will hopefully have more on this within this specific context in due course.

disconnect272 karma

How are you liking the new Global Hub? I worked on the design team and it’s nice know our years of efforts have finally come to fruition that faculty and students have been in the building for several months now.

nour_kteily4 karma

Totally incredible! Thank you so much for all of your efforts in designing an amazing building that's already sparked a great deal of interaction and collaboration and lifted everyone's spirits.

benkbloch2 karma

Why are all the entrances to Kellogg except that really annoying back entrance closed currently?

nour_kteily3 karma

good question! let me know if you find out :-)

Master_of_Abstinence1 karma

Based on your studies do you believe humans are inherently good or evil? Or do these concepts just completely not apply realistically?

nour_kteily5 karma

I think that humans have both the capacity for great evil and a mindblowing capacity for large-scale cooperation. I think it takes work to leverage the former and move beyond the former, but there is a lot of evidence that we can do it. Steve Pinker's book "The Better Angels of our Nature" has highlighted some of the ways in which we humans have nudged ourselves in the direction of cooperation over aggression (one good example being countries making themselves more inter-dependent on one another economically, rendering it more costly to engage in violence against one another).

plecha1 karma

Hope this isn't too farfetched question. Is there any book or article you would recommend to someone who is looking into improving relationships(not necessarily romantic) with others?

nour_kteily2 karma

For romantic relationships: my amazing colleague Eli Finkel's new book "The All-or-nothing marriage" (see also his recent NYT articles on "marriage hacks").

For human relationships more generally: I'd recommend some Negotiation classics. As I always tell my students, negotiation is relevant not only in professional contexts but hugely relevant to interpersonal contexts, too. Some of my favorites: "Negotiation Genius" by Deepak Malhotra & Max Bazerman; and "Getting to Yes" by Fisher and Ury. Check out the parts on "separating the people from the problem" in the later especially.

entropizer1 karma

How confident are we that dehumanization causes hate and violence and conflict rather than just the other way around?

nour_kteily2 karma

great question. as you can imagine, this is a very difficult question to fully address emprically. We are trying though: recently, we've been doing some longitudinal work tracking dehumanization and support for violence over time, to get some insight into how these might affect one another over time. Early indications suggest that both pathways might be true. We also do have some experimental work showing that framing a group as fully human or as more like animals can causally influence support for aggression towards them.

gnarwill670 karma

Did you get your start in psychology at Northwestern?

Asking as a current psych student at Northwestern

nour_kteily5 karma

Go Cats! I actually started out at McGill University's psychology program (highly recommended!) and then did my doctoral research at Harvard Psych.

Ferragho-8 karma

Do the same effects work in reverse? Like childless people refer to their dogs and other pets as children or kids and overly humanize simple pets. I think it's insulting. I think this is a far greater threat to society. Also I can't think of a more useless AmA than this. Dehumanization is incredibly useful in warfare, our troops here in the US regularly take brainwashing classes that associate the enemy as a simple rock or a small brush. Thanks.

nour_kteily13 karma

Hi, thanks for your question. Yes, people do sometimes imbue non-human entities with human minds— see e.g., the work on anthroporphism by my colleague Adam Waytz and Nick Epley and others. Dehumanization has indeed been shown to help facilitate aggression, and yes, troops are sometimes trained to dehumanize in order to be better able to shoot to kill (although it turns out that this is quite hard, regardless). Whether or not that is a desirable quality— on the battlefield, and, critically, beyond— is a bigger-picture moral question. In my own view, the capacity for overt dehumanization to spiral out of control and produce mass suffering (on either side of a conflict) makes it dangerous and worth understanding (and mitigating). If we could appeal to other groups' minds and cooperate more effectively rather than engaging in dehumanization, we might find ourselves not needing to be on the battlefield so often in the first place.