Research on the Infrahumanization Effect: A Review

Ajana LÖW


Infrahumanization refers to the tendency to deny human characteristics to members of the out-group, which is reflected in a lower attribution of experiencing secondary emotions to the out-group than to the in-group (Leyens et al., 2000). This differential attribution is a consequence of the assumption that humans have the exclusive possibility of experiencing secondary emotions: while experiencing primary emotions is universal to both humans and animals, experiencing secondary emotions is a process unique to humans. Studies in the area have systematically confirmed the existence of the infrahumanization effect, using explicit and implicit measures, along with different stimulus materials. The best predictor of occurrence of the effect is the degree of in-group identification, while relative group status and prior conflict between groups are less important than it has been assumed. Infrahumanization is difficult to reduce because it is the result of automatic cognitive processes, and the environment encourages its intensification and maintenance. In this paper, the current knowledge on infrahumanization is reviewed and the most common methods used to assess this phenomenon are described. Moreover, the conditions that lead to infrahumanization, in terms of the in-group and out-group characteristics, are presented. In addition, the critics of the conceptualization are described. Finally, some social implications of this phenomenon are presented, along with the guidelines for future research.


infrahumanization; denial of humanity; intergroup relations; emotion experience attributions

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Print ISSN 1330-0288 | Online ISSN 1848-6096