“When we encounter a person, we usually infer something about their minds. Sometimes, we fail to do this, opening up the possibility that we do not perceive the person as fully human,” -Lasana Harris, Duke University
Studies in social neuroscience has shown through MRI studies that there is a certain area of the brain which is activated when experiencing feelings and empathy. According to an article on PsychCentral, “Brain’s Social Network Implicated in Dehumanizing Others,” by Rick Nauert, a study was conducted recently in Duke University and Princeton University, in which participants were shown images of people in two groups: 1. images such as a female college student and male American firefighters, which yielded results of brain activity for empathy/feeling 2. The second group of images showed people who would generally be considered “low” in society: such as drug addicts and the homeless. Through MRI results, the scans showed that the areas of the brain known to be activated for feelings and empathy “failed to engage.” Instead, the brain areas activated by the second set of images were involved with “disgust.”
“Prior research has suggested that a lack of social understanding can occur when individuals do not acknowledge the mind of other people when imagining a day in their life. This misperception causes an individual to view them differently on traits that we think distinguish humans from everything else….
This theory also may help explain how propaganda depicting members of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda as cockroaches and Hitler’s excoriation of Jews in Nazi Germany as “vermin” contributed to torture and genocide, the study said.” -Rick Nauert
More information about the research can be found on: Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuroimaging Responses to Extreme Out-Groups,” Lasana T. Harris, Susan T. Fiske, Department of Psychology; Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior; Princeton University,