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From Dehumanization and Objectification to Rehumanization: Neuroimaging Studies on the Building Blocks of Empathy

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Social neuroscience offers a window into the mental origins of empathy. People must appreciate another mind in order to empathize. People first categorize the other as human, assuming a mind, and then differentiate among social categories according to universal dimensions of perceived traits: warmth and competence. The least warm and competent groups (poor people, homeless, drug addicts) may even be denied humanity and a meaningful mind, according to both neural and behavioral responses to allegedly disgusting outcasts. Other groups may be instead envied and viewed as tools or automatons, that is, objectified. The patterns can reverse when perceivers must consider the other's preferences, that is, appreciate the other's mind.
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Keywords: amygdala; dehumanization; empathy; mPFC; mind; objectification; prejudice; social cognition; social neuroscience

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, USA

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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