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Social NeuroscienceToward Understanding the Underpinnings of the Social Mind$
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Alexander Todorov, Susan Fiske, and Deborah Prentice

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780195316872

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195316872.001.0001

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Perceiving Humanity or Not

Perceiving Humanity or Not

A Social Neuroscience Approach to Dehumanized Perception

(p.123) Chapter 8 Perceiving Humanity or Not
Social Neuroscience

Lasana T. Harris

Susan T. Fiske (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Social neuroscience can be used to understand dehumanized perception, a failure to think about another person's mind (mentalizing). This extreme form of prejudice entails perceiving a person as less than, not quite, or not at all human. It is argued that dehumanized perception may be a psychological response to social targets who elicit the negative basic emotion disgust. The chapter reviews social neuroscience data showing that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)—an area implicated in mentalizing and social cognition—is not as active for these dehumanized targets as for other social targets. It then reviews subsequent social psychological predictions generated by the neural data; these data show that participants fail to think about the minds of these dehumanized targets to the same extent as other social targets. Participants also describe these dehumanized targets as ill-intentioned, inept, unfamiliar, dissimilar, strange, and not uniquely human or quite typically human. The chapter concludes with a discussion of some factors that may moderate dehumanized perception, perhaps relevant to the hope of reducing some of the thought processes and emotions that underlie human atrocities.

Keywords:   social neuroscience, dehumanized perception, prejudice, medial prefrontal cortex, mentalizing, social cognition, social targets

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