Dehumanization: Definition and Meaning

Dehumanization, in terms of behavior, is the treatment of others in a way that devalues their uniqueness as "individual" people, "individual" animals, or "individual" objects. Dehumanization as a process can be thought of as the antithesis of personification, a figure of speech in which inanimate objects or abstractions are given human attributes; dehumanization is the deprivation of these qualities or a reduction to abstraction.

Meaning of Dehumanization

The act of denying another person's complete humanity, along with the violence and suffering those results from it, is known as dehumanization. It is viewed and treated as though other people lack the mental abilities that are typically attributed to human beings, according to a practical definition. According to this definition, dehumanization includes any behaviors and ideas that regard a person as "less than" human.

One strategy used to encourage genocide is dehumanization. In addition, it has been used to defend war, judicial and extrajudicial executions, slavery, the seizure of property, the denial of the ability to vote and other rights, and the attack of enemies or political rivals.

Further, dehumanization proposes opposing social standards, dehumanization differs from inhumane actions or procedures. It is a dehumanizing act since the previous norms are being devalued in favor of the competing new norms, which then redefine the dehumanizing conduct.

Factors of Dehumanization

Dehumanization is a psychological term that has been studied in many different ways. In contrast, the Austrian ethnologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt uses the term pseudo-speciation, which he borrowed from the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, to suggest that the dehumanized person or persons are not thought of as belonging to the human species. Infrahumanization suggests that people view and treat members of outgroups as "less human" and more like animals. Particularly, people have a stronger affinity for the ingroup than the outgroup when it comes to secondary emotions.

Primary emotions are discovered to be more closely related to the outgroup. Dehumanization and violence are inextricably linked. It is frequently impossible to seriously harm someone without first mentally degrading them. Military troops may find it psychologically important to refer to the adversary as an animal or other non-human being. Military training includes systematically desensitizing and dehumanizing the enemy. Without such desensitization, it would be challenging, if not impossible, for one person to kill another person, even during a conflict or when their lives were in danger.

Races And Ethnicities

Intergroup conflict frequently results in dehumanization. In both popular culture and academic writing, racial and ethnic minorities are frequently portrayed as animals. There is evidence that this association between African Americans and apes still exists in the American context. One is more inclined to condone violence against African Americans if they have this demeaning implicit relationship. Dehumanization has historically been linked to genocidal conflicts because of how victims are portrayed in pre- and post-conflict ideologies. This kind of dehumanization can also be applied to immigrants.

Dangers of Dehumanization

Even though deindividuation and the creation of enemy images are fairly prevalent, they together constitute a risky process that takes a particularly negative turn when it deviates into dehumanization. The persecution of particular groups becomes more psychologically acceptable after they are labeled as being evil, morally deficient, and not entirely human. Aggression and violence-related restraints start to fade. Dehumanization, unsurprisingly, raises the possibility of violence and can lead to uncontrollable conflict. After a violent incident, people may feel even more justified in acting in ways that they previously would have considered immoral.

Parties may start to believe that defeating the opposing side is important and strive for a resounding triumph that will make their adversaries vanish into thin air. This kind of "into the sea framing" can sever the relationships between the individuals involved, making it more difficult to resolve their underlying issues and increasing the number of innocent lives lost. It is believed that humanization initiatives, the growth of empathy, the formation of personal connections between opposing parties, and the pursuit of shared objectives may all help to minimize or even reverse the psychological process of dehumanization.

How May Dehumanization Be Avoided

Interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy or mindfulness can assist individuals in managing their emotions and fostering greater empathy in circumstances related to Ways to lessen the distribution of responsibility are also recommended by Milgram's well-known study on obedience. Although many participants could be forced to administer severe electrical shocks to a "student," it hasn't been noticed as frequently that it was difficult to persuade them to do so. They would be much less likely to obey, for instance, if they witnessed the effect on the victim or merely had a passing acquaintance with the person in charge. This is one reason why journalism is so crucial—it enables people to understand what is actually happening.


Redefining the objects of discrimination and violence as less human than other individuals is known as dehumanization. The traditional tactic for this is to refer to things as "animals" and "vermin." A demeaning term is "illegals," which is used to describe people. In the majority of massive crimes against humanity or acts of genocide carried out by governments, armies, or terrorists, dehumanization is at play. The major goal is to persuade individuals to accept or even partake in actions that they already know are improper. Politics alone does not constitute dehumanization, though. Dehumanization occurs whenever a person reduces another person to a single quality, particularly a negative one. Alcoholism, addiction, diabetes, and schizophrenia are all diagnoses that strip people of their complete richness and reduce them to a symptom or condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is Infrahumanisation?

Ans. The unstated assumption that a member of one's ingroup is more human than a member of their outgroup, which is less human, is known as infrahumanization. In the early 2000s, Jacques-Philippe Leyen’s and colleagues developed the phrase to distinguish between what they claim to be a regular occurrence and the dehumanization connected to acts of extreme intergroup violence, such as genocide.

Q2. What do you mean by social defeat?

Ans. A concept called "social defeat" is used to study the physiological and behavioral effects of hostile interactions between conspecific animals or humans, in dyadic or group-individual contexts, with the potential to have very significant effects on resource control, mate access, and social positions.

Q3. Define the term social rejection?

Ans. When someone is willfully removed from a social relationship or social contact, social rejection happens. An individual or a group of people can reject or shun another person. Additionally, rejection can be passive, such as when someone is ignored or given the "silent treatment," or it can be active, such as when someone bullies, teases, or makes fun of them.

Q4. What is social relation?

Ans. Any voluntary or unvoluntary interpersonal contact between two or more people inside and/or between groups is referred to as a "social relation," which is the fundamental analytical unit in the social sciences.

Q5. What is social isolation?

Ans. Social isolation is a condition in which a person has no social interaction at all, or almost none. It is distinct from loneliness, which is characterized by an involuntary and temporary loss of touch with other people.

Updated on: 09-May-2023


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