Proposal for the 2016 Pilot Study: Dehumanization and the Role of Biological Racism in Politics

Research on racial attitudes is rife with disagreement. Scholars debate the very nature of
contemporary racial attitudes, the way in which they are measured, and the extent to which they are implicit or explicit. At the same time, however, as Hutchings (2015) writes, there is a “near consensus among scholars that more modern forms of prejudice have generally displaced ‘old-fashioned’ forms of racial bias.” We propose a two-question battery, which measures a concept that challenges this conventional wisdom: items that capture white dehumanization of blacks. Specifically, these questions measure an individual level propensity among whites to view blacks as less than fully human – a phenomenon that we argue is widespread and has significant implications for our broader understanding of racial conflict in the U.S. In support of this proposal, we present analyses from a pilot study of a convenience sample of white Americans. These analyses show that (1) substantial proportions of whites rate blacks as less evolved than they rate whites; (2) that dehumanized attitudes are correlated with traditional factors in ways we should expect, suggesting that this measure has high construct validity); and, (3) even after controlling for standard measures of prejudice against blacks, dehumanization of blacks is powerfully associated with a wide range of white political preferences, including approval of Obama’s performance as president, support for punitive criminal justice policies, and opposition to policies intended to aid blacks. The dehumanization measure proposed here therefore promises to inform not only the study of core topics in political science, such as candidate evaluation and public opinion, but also research across the social sciences examining the nature and consequences of racial attitudes in the contemporary United States.

Read the full proposal

One thought on “
Proposal for the 2016 Pilot Study: Dehumanization and the Role of Biological Racism in Politics

  1. L.J Zigerell

    [Disclosure: I am the author of the “Measuring Resentment of Black Americans” proposal.]

    1. The proposed dehumanization scale has five figures, and it is not clear that the fourth figure is non-human. The proposal describes the fourth figure as “a Neanderthal-type figure holding a spear,” but there is no reason that respondents cannot interpret the fourth figure as a human holding a spear. (For what it’s worth, my understanding is that the spear-holding penultimate figure in the famous March of Progress image is a Cro-Magnon, which is classified as human.)

    In any event, the dehumanization scale would be more convincing if the penultimate figure were clearly not human, so that responses can be interpreted more cleanly to reflect perceptions of groups being more highly evolved and not perceptions of groups being more civilized or industrialized.

    For that matter, it might be better to replace “whites” and “blacks” in the prompt with “white Americans” and “black Americans,” to avoid respondents conceptualizing whites and blacks in terms that include Europeans and Africans.

    2. The proposal interchanges the concepts of evolved and human, but it is not clear that dehumanization is the same thing as perceiving a person to be less highly evolved. In canine terms, some dogs are more wolf-like than other dogs, but that does not mean that the more wolf-like dogs are not dogs; similarly, the fact that some persons might seem less highly evolved does not mean that these persons are not human.

    3. The proposal states: “Whites are also more likely to attribute superhuman qualities to blacks, yet another way of denying their humanity.” But superhumans would presumably be located to the right of humans on the dehumanization scale. The argument of the proposal thus appears to be that respondents can dehumanize blacks by placing blacks lower *or* higher than humans on the dehumanization scale; this suggests that human and evolved are different concepts, given that rating blacks as more highly or less highly evolved than humans are both considered dehumanization.

Comments are closed.