The Dark Psychology Of Dehumanizing Migrants Revealed By Brain Scans

Humans are capable of doing some horrific things to each other. Much of this is only made possible when we dehumanize people. It’s a theme that occurs throughout history, whether it’s the horrors of the Holocaust or the brutality of European colonialism, and has gained a ugly new relevance in our current political climate, most clearly demonstrated by world leaders referring to migrants as “insects” or “animals.”

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Collectively blaming groups for the actions of individuals can license vicarious retribution. Acts of terrorism by Muslim
extremists against innocents, and the spikes in anti-Muslim hate crimes against innocent Muslims that follow, suggest that
reciprocal bouts of collective blame can spark cycles of violence. How can this cycle be short-circuited? After establishing a
link between collective blame of Muslims and anti-Muslim attitudes and behavior, we used an “interventions tournament” to
identify a successful intervention (among many that failed). The “winning” intervention reduced collective blame of Muslims
by highlighting hypocrisy in the ways individuals collectively blame Muslims—but not other groups (White Americans,
Christians)—for individual group members’ actions. After replicating the effect in an independent sample, we demonstrate
that a novel interactive activity that isolates the psychological mechanism amplifies the effectiveness of the collective blame
hypocrisy intervention and results in downstream reductions in anti-Muslim attitudes and anti-Muslim behavior.