Justice, Morality, and the Dehumanization of Refugees


Three studies were conducted to test the role of the dehumanization of refugees (through claims that they are immoral) in determining emotional reactions to refugees, attitudes toward refugees, and attitudes toward current refugee policy in Canada. We also examined determinants of such perceptions. In Studies 1 and 2, correlational analyses and structural equation modeling were utilized. In both studies, it was demonstrated that individuals who are higher in social dominance orientation are especially likely to dehumanize refugees, and this dehumanization leads to greater contempt and lack of admiration for refugees, resulting in less favorable attitudes toward the group and toward the nation’s current refugee policy. Study 3 was an experiment in which we examined the effects of information presented about refugees on emotions and attitudes. Results demonstrated that dehumanizing media depictions of refugees as violating appropriate procedures and trying to cheat the system cause greater contempt and lack of admiration for refugees in general, which in turn lead to less favorable attitudes toward the group and less support for the current refugee policy. Results are discussed in terms of the functions that dehumanization may serve, and potential strategies for counteracting such effects.

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Correspondence to Victoria M. Esses.

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Preparation of this article was supported by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grant to the first author. Portions of this research were presented at the 2005 EAESP Small Group Meeting on Social Justice and Intergroup Conflict, Lisbon, Portugal, and at the 2005 Meeting of the European Association of Experimental Social Psychology, Wurzburg, Germany

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Esses, V.M., Veenvliet, S., Hodson, G. et al. Justice, Morality, and the Dehumanization of Refugees. Soc Just Res 21, 4–25 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-007-0058-4

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  • Dehumanization
  • Refugees
  • Refugee policy
  • Justice