On Opinion


The Neuroscience of Dehumanisation, with Lasana Harris

Season 2, Ep. 20
“Dehumanisation is a psychological process, and every psychological process can be used for good or bad.”

Humanisation (attributing motive and consciousness) and dehumanisation are flip sides of common cognitive processes, what Harris calls “Flexible Social Cognition”, which he has measured via fMRI scans.

“I think of dehumanization much more as an everyday psychological phenomenon”

Neurologically, dehumanisation is the ability to regulate one’s own social cognition. We grant more ‘humanity’ to our friends than the bad driver in front of us. And in certain professional contexts, dehumanising is a good thing: to small degrees, doctors do it their patients better to treat them.

But thinking of dehumanisation as a scale provides a new frame through which to look at sexual objectification and the commoditisation of labour, all the way through to the Holocaust and the Slave Trade.

Because while dehumanisation isn’t the cause of atrocities, it is always used to justify them.

“Emotions like anger and fear are much more energising when it comes to committing these human atrocities. What dehumanisation does is it allows you to justify why the behaviour has occurred…”

Listen to Lasana explain:

  • Theory of Mind
  • Social Neuroscience
  • The role of Stereotypes in cognition
  • The Evolutionary reasons for “Flexible Social Cognition”
  • And how we can fight Dehumanisation - societally, and as individuals.
“We need to re-engineer our social systems”

Works cited include:

Read the Full Transcript

Lasana Harris

Dr Lasana Harris is Senior Lecturer in Social Cognition at UCL. Lasana’s research focuses on social, legal and economic decision making and how thinking about what other people are thinking affects those types of decisions. His work explores dehumanisaton, how people fail to consider other people’s minds, and anthropomorphism, extending minds to things that don’t have them.

On Opinion is a member of The Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what’s broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.

Listen to Democracy Matters

More on this episode

Learn all about On Opinion

Meet Turi Munthehttps://twitter.com/turi

Learn more about the Parlia project here: https://www.parlia.com/about

And visit us at: https://www.parlia.com

More Episodes


Generational Politics, with Bobby Duffy

Season 2, Ep. 27
S2 E27: Generational Politics“If you truly understand what’s different between generations, you have a much better idea of what’s coming up in the future.”It turns out there are very real differences between the generations. Key external events - a world war, a crippling global financial crash,9⁄11, or even a pandemic - will mark a generation in a way that differentiates them from previous or later ones.But there are also slower cultural and technological differences that also make their mark: consider the dwindling role of religion across the West over 4 generations, or the impact of smart phones on the way we all think.”The concept of the Generation is the most important one… because it is how history moves, changes, wheels and flows”- Ortega y GassetBobby Duffy has writtenthebook on generational differences, and here explains what brings us together and splits us apart - from our attitudes to sex, money and moral values to the way we think of driving or home-ownership.“Because we’re so deeply connected, looking at things generationally is really important to us because we want each generation after us to do better”Listen to Bobby discuss:How to go about defining generationsHow we get our stereotypes right and wrongWhy Gen Z are in a ‘sex recession’Why Gen X are so miserableWhether the Baby Boomers really did have it so much easierWhether there is space for the ‘individual’ in a demographic analysis of culture and personalityThe 3 Key drivers of attitudinal changeAnd why we all live 200 years…Read theFull TranscriptBobby DuffyBobby Duffy is Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Policy Institute. He has worked across most public policy areas in his career of nearly 30 years in policy research and evaluation, including being seconded to the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. He is the author ofGenerations - Does when you’re born shape who you are?More on this episodeLearn all aboutOn OpinionMeetTuri Munthe:https://twitter.com/turiLearn more about the Parlia project hereAnd visit us at:https://www.parlia.com

Political Predisposition, with John Hibbing

Season 2, Ep. 26
S2 E26: Political Predisposition“40% of the variance observed in political attitudes can be attributed to genetics”Twin studies have suggested that one third of our political orientation can be traced to our genes. But does that mean our politics are predisposed?John Hibbing is one of the greats of Political Psychology in the US. His work spans decades and has broken ground across multiple disciplines - from polling and representation, to the biology of political differences. John believes that knowledge of of this genetic influence can help us better understand each other.“Predispositions are not destiny, but defaults - defaults that can be and frequently are overridden.”Conservatives and Liberals evolved clear and distinct bedrock values deep in our collective past. Our views of the outsider, our perception of threat, our concern for order may be as innate to us as our sense of taste or our personality traits.“Politics is universal; it’s human nature that varies”Recognising how our values differ, and the reasons why we have such different perspectives on what makes for a just and good society is fundamental to the democratic project. Because ultimately, we need both Left and Right to survive.Listen to John discuss:How taste and politics are linkedThe core values of conservatism and liberalismWhy Left and Right are universal across culture and historywhether there is a ‘Liberal’ GeneWhy Nature vs Nurture is a meaningless questionHow to talk to the other sideRead theFull TranscriptJohn HibbingJohn Hibbing is an American political scientist and Foundation Regents University Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is known for his research on the biological and psychological correlates of political ideology. He is the author ofPredisposed: Liberals, Conservatives and the Biology of Political DifferencesMore on this episodeLearn all aboutOn OpinionMeetTuri Munthe:https://twitter.com/turiLearn more about the Parlia project hereAnd visit us at:https://www.parlia.com

Emotional Politics, with Omar Kholeif and Jonathan Sklar

Season 2, Ep. 25
S2 E25: On Emotion“The world that we live in today is fuelled by heightened emotion…”Over the course of these two seasons of On Opinion, we’ve looked at opinions through the lens of philosophy, psychology, social science, anthropology and evolution. But one area we’ve missed is that of feeling.Omar Kholeif and Jonathan Sklar take very different approaches to understand the world we live in, but both see emotion as something that can affect individualsandcollective groups.Jonathan feels that you can transpose psychoanalysis, which is designed for the individual, to a culture and a moment in history. Omar is convinced not only that ‘ages’ have emotions, dominant leitmotifs of feeling that impact everyone around them, but also that today is a particularly emotional age - that our feelings are closer to the surface.Listen to Turi speak to Jonathan and Omar about:How we define ‘ages’The difference between the Arab Spring and Black Lives Matter protestsWhether we need to ‘fix’ an age of anxietyThe rise of hatred across the WestHow psychoanalysis can heal emotional wounds of traumaThe importance of mourning“There’s a considerable rise in anxiety and tension and people hating other people, and there’s far less debate going on…”Works cited include:William Reddy’sEmotional RegimesWill Davies onNervous StatesRead theFull TranscriptOmar KholeifOmar is a writer, curator, and cultural historian, and is Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation, Government of Sharjah, UAE. Trained as a political scientist, Kholeif’s career began as a journalist and documentary filmmaker before entering into the picture palace of museums. Concerned with the intersections of emerging technologies with post-colonial, and critical race theory, Kholeif’s research has explored histories of performance art; the visual experience of mental illness; the interstices of social justice, as well as the aesthetics of digital culture.Jonathan SklarJonathan trained in medicine at the Royal Free, University of London in 1973, and then trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy in the Adult Department, Tavistock Centre for four years with adults, children and adolescents. At the same time he trained at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and has been a psychoanalyst since 1983 and a training analyst since 1996. He is chair of The Independent Psychoanalysis Trust.On Opinion is a member ofThe Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what’s broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.Produced by Emma PenneyMore on this episodeLearn all aboutOn OpinionMeetTuri Munthe:https://twitter.com/turiLearn more about the Parlia project here:https://www.parlia.com/aboutAnd visit us at:https://www.parlia.com