The Dynamics of Dehumanisation

By Dr Robert Long

Original post here –

My response and thoughts on this article below:

I suspect that if I had read this article, and in particular read the quote “It is not a big jump from dehumanizing others through prejudice, racism, narcissism and bullying in general to herding people into a camps, incinerators and gas chambers” 3 years ago I would have disagreed and thought this was an exaggeration. Not now though.

I imagine some may still read this line and think it is crazy, and they may ask how can you compare simply calling someone a ‘rag head’ (or similar), to the atrocities of Nazi regime.

However, with my (early and beginner) understanding of social psychology, including considering the many important things that make up our social arrangements, such as the semiotics that Rob refers to, I better understand and can make the connection. I believe it is the same with any strong nationalist agenda where prejudice reigns.

Interestingly, I’ve been reading a book called Beyond Prejudice (Dixon and Levine 2012 – which has a chapter on ‘Prejudice and Dehumanisation’. What I have taken from it so far is that while some might understand the obvious examples of the Nazi’s as outlined in this article, dehumanisation can start, and quickly evolve, from a very small beginning.

For example, in risk and safety when we label people ‘subbies’, ‘tradies’, or even ‘safety cops’, while I know that these can be a convenient term to label a group of people, should we think carefully when we use these terms and consider whether they may be dehumanising?

I am now much more sensitive to the way people are described and labelled. While I’m not delusional and think think for a minute that I don’t do this myself, I do, however I am more alert to the cues of when I may do this and what this may mean for others.

What I may have thought was something innocent and not well thought through 3 years ago, now has me thinking carefully and considerably about the discourse of how we talk about people. For example ‘everyday’ terms and labels that I hear for people like ‘housos’, ‘homeless’, ‘druggos’ and ‘westies’ all mean something. It’s so much easier to think of these people as lesser humans when we label them like this, as Rob refers to ‘dumhumanise’. Just listen to any mainstream TV 6 o’clock news and similar examples will jump out at you. Think about what the media is trying to do to us when they use these terms in the way they do.

If anyone wants proof of what this ‘does to us’, you can refer to Dixon’s book and the Chapter on Prejudice and Dehumanisation, where he refers to a study done by Holtz and Wagner published in 2009. They “conducted a neuro-imaging study of social perception. When receiving members of groups stereotyped as lacking warmth and competence (i.e. homeless people and drug users), brain structures that reliably activate during social cognition tasks failed to activate, and those that subserve disgust were activated instead” (p. 89). You can access the full study here – (

What examples do you know of in risk and safety where we label or dehumanise people?

Again, thanks for sharing Rob. I’m sure this will prompt many of us in the risk and safety community to consider carefully the words we use, the labels that we may create and how we refer to and consider others. I now recognise that something that can start so small can have incredible impact. Cheers, Rob Sams