Recognizing humanity: Dehumanization predicts neural mirroring and empathic accuracy in face-to-face interactions.


Dehumanization is the failure to recognize the cognitive and emotional complexities of the people around us. While its presence has been well documented in horrific acts of violence, it is also theorized to play a role in everyday life. We measured its presence and effects in face-to-face dyadic interactions between strangers and found that not only was there variance in the extent to which they perceived one another as human, but this variance predicted neural processing and behavior. Specifically, participants showed stronger neural mirroring, indexed by EEG mu-suppression, in response to partners they evaluated as more human, suggesting their brains neurally simulated those targets’ actions more. Participants were also marginally more empathically accurate about the emotions of partners deemed more human and performed better with them on a cooperative task. These results suggest that there are indeed differences in our recognition of the humanity of people we meet—demonstrated for the first time in a real, face-to-face interaction—and that this mundane variation affects our ability to neurally simulate, cooperate, and empathize.

Social, Cognitive, and Affective Neuroscience