Gordon Hodson explores dehumanization


Professor Gordon Hodson wants to find out why some people see others as “less than human.”

Hodson, in the Department of Psychology, is the recipient of the Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence for 2015-2018. The Chancellor’s Chair has been offered since 2001 by Brock University to recognize excellence in scholarship among faculty members.

Hodson, director of the Brock Lab of Intergroup Processes, will use the Chancellor’s Chair to continue his research into the extent to which people who dehumanize one group (e.g., a racial group) also dehumanize other groups (e.g., a sexual minority), a phenomenon he calls “generalized dehumanization.”

“The less we see people as human, the less concerned we are for their welfare,” Hodson explains. “Given that very little research has examined the causes of dehumanization, I’m hoping to help shed light on the reasons why we come to see others as ‘less than human’ relative to ourselves.”

One of the causes has proven to be related to a disregard for, or undervaluing of, non-human animals. “We have discovered that psychologically closing the human-animal divide effectively cuts off animalistic dehumanization at its roots,” says Hodson. “After all, there is no social value in representing ‘those people’ as animals after animals are psychologically elevated to the level of humans.”

Studying the process of dehumanization also helps researchers find ways to develop intervention strategies. For example, intergroup contact and cross-group friendships reduce prejudice among participants.

Hodson now hopes to develop effective interventions for individuals who are both pre-disposed to prejudice and unlikely to engage in contact with other groups.

Thomas Dunk, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, is delighted that Hodson will have the opportunity to continue this important work, which is rooted in psychology but ties in with many areas in the Social Sciences, such as critical animal studies, social justice and equity studies and communication studies. “The potential for broader scholarly applications of this work, as well as its relevance to serious world issues, is vast,” Dunk points out. “This is exciting for the Faculty of Social Sciences, Brock University, and societies in Canada and around the world.”

Recipients of the Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence present a public lecture as a way of sharing their contributions to scholarship with the university and wider community. If you can’t wait until 2018 to hear more about Hodson’s research findings, follow his Psychology Today blog, “Without Prejudice,” at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/without-prejudice.

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