Researchers have brought forth a new perspective on the study of dehumanisation, suggesting that the key to truly understanding this complex social phenomenon may lie in exploring our relationships with animals. Published in the journal Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, the research calls for an integration of human-animal relations into the conventional discourse.
Dehumanisation, the psychological process by which certain groups are perceived as less human, often intersects with the concept of “animalisation” – seeing humans as akin to animals. But according to the researchers, the existing literature has fallen short in acknowledging the weight of this intersection.
Interestingly, the paper notes that not all instances of animalisation are negative. In some cultural contexts and personal relationships, animal-related terms can be used affectionately or positively, like calling a romantic partner ‘pet’ or children ‘monkeys.’ Yet, in an industrialised society where animals are often bred for consumption and utility, likening someone to an animal is generally seen as derogatory.
The paper suggests that integrating the human-animal angle into the study of dehumanisation opens up new avenues for effective interventions. The authors argue that efforts to reduce dehumanisation could actually benefit from manipulating perceptions of the human-animal divide, as this perspective is usually less salient and, therefore, harder to resist.
The researchers point out that understanding the fluidity of what constitutes a “person” could be instrumental in breaking down dehumanisation practices. For example, while corporations in many countries are given “personhood” status, animals – despite being sentient beings – are not. Acknowledging animals’ right to personhood could drastically change the power dynamics, as human rights would no longer automatically supersede those of other beings.
The study also raises pertinent questions about our broader understanding of human nature and societal norms. It forces us to reconsider the ethics of animal treatment, the construction of personhood, and, by extension, our own biases and prejudices.
While the research offers a fresh perspective, it is also a call to action. It encourages scholars in the field to adopt this more holistic view to better understand the complexities of dehumanisation. Such an interdisciplinary approach promises not just advancements in the study of prejudice and dehumanisation but also a broader, more nuanced understanding of what it means to be human.