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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Origins of dehumanization : infants' goal attribution to linguistic in-group and out-group members Yuen, Francis


Research in the past two decades has found evidence for dehumanization in both adults and children; however, its developmental origins – that is, whether young infants already possess the tendency to dehumanize others – has yet to be investigated. The present study examined whether 11-month-old infants already dehumanize out-group members by denying out-group others of certain mental states, a common measure of dehumanization in adults and children. To do so, the study examined infants’ attribution of goals, a basic mental state infants readily attribute to human agents. Sixty-two primarily English-hearing infants watched videos in which a female experimenter, either speaking in English or Spanish, reached for one of two objects. At test, the two objects switched places, and infants’ looking times were measured as the experimenter either reached for the same object or a different object. Infants who watched the English speaker were surprised, and thus looked longer, when she reached for a different object, suggesting that they attributed a goal of the original object to the English speaker. By contrast, infants watched both types of reaches equally if they saw the Spanish speaker. Exploratory analyses examined the impact of age and language exposure on infants’ goal attribution to in-group and out-group members. These findings suggest that infants as young as 11 months of age may already show the tendency to deny out-group others of certain mental states. We discuss the implications of these findings as it relates to the nature of dehumanization and the emergence of intergroup bias.

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