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Demeaning: Dehumanizing Others by Minimizing the Importance of Their Psychological Needs
Keywords: motivation; hierarchy of needs; dehumanization; mind perception
Abstract: Four studies document a tendency to “demean” others’ needs: believing that psychological needs—those requiring mental capacity, and hence more uniquely human (e.g., need for meaning)—are relatively less important to others than physical needs—those shared with non-human animals, and hence more animalistic (e.g., need for food). We propose that demeaning is a novel form of dehumanization focused on motives rather than traits. Supporting this prediction, demeaning was stronger when evaluating the needs of non-human animals (e.g., chimpanzees) and historically dehumanized groups (e.g., homeless people, drug addicts), and weaker when evaluating one’s own and close friends’ needs (Studies 1-3). Suggesting that demeaning is not only a bias but also an error, Study 4 charity donors believed that recipients’ psychological needs were less important than their physical needs, but recipients reported the opposite. Demeaning is a unique facet of dehumanization reflecting a reliable and consequential understanding of others’ minds.