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Dehumanization after terrorism: the role of psychophysiological emotion regulation and trait emotional intelligence

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In recent years, numerous terrorist attacks have been perpetrated, inducing a reaction even in people who were not directly exposed. In this scenery, we measured people’s blatant dehumanization of Arabs in the aftermath of the attack that took place in Manchester, UK in 2017. The goal of the present work was to assess how dehumanization of a whole group blamed for the attack was influenced by physiological regulation and trait emotional intelligence (trait EI). Further, we measured how this relation changed over time. Participants’ trait EI and psychophysiological regulation (as indexed by heart rate variability) were measured, a first time, in the immediate after math of the terrorist attack. After watching a video of the attack, participants were presented with a measure of blatant dehumanization. The same procedure was repeated 2 weeks later. Findings indicated that at Time 1 there was no effect of either physiological regulation or trait EI, as participants showed an overall tendency to dehumanized Arabs. At Time 2, however, dehumanization was predicted by an interaction between physiological regulation and trait EI. Among people displaying high reactivity when watching the video, those with low trait EI had a tendency to dehumanize Arabs more so than those with high trait EI (no significant effect of trait EI was found for people with low reactivity). The contributions of the present work to both theory and social policy are discussed.

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  1. We used the label Arabs in the study materials and in this paper, although we are aware that not all Arabs are Muslims and not all Muslims are Arabs. However, these two categories are strongly associated in Italy and frequently used in an interchangeable way.

  2. Participants were also asked to rate the following groups: Asians, Central Africans, East Europeans, Americans, and Germans. This was done mainly to avoid making the comparison between Italians and Arabs too obvious.

  3. In the present study we present finding using NN50 as a measure of HRV. However, other time-domain and frequency-domain HRV measurements are frequently used and sometimes thought to provide a better assessment of vagal tone (see Laborde et al. 2017). Howver, descriptive statistics and correlation between NN50, RMSSD (root mean square of successive R-R differences) and HF-HRV (0.15–0.4 Hz) at rest and while watching the video at the two time points (Time 1 and Time 2) are reported in the Supplementary Material Table.


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Correspondence to Sara Scrimin.

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Scrimin, S., Rubaltelli, E. Dehumanization after terrorism: the role of psychophysiological emotion regulation and trait emotional intelligence. Curr Psychol 40, 2707–2714 (2021).

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