Ethnocentrism and the Value of a Human Life

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Drawing on theories of intergroup prejudice and decision making, the authors examined how much participants valued lives of conationals and enemy civilians. Using decisions made under risk, Experiment 1 showed that Americans valued Iraqi and American lives equally when outcomes for those nations did not compete but valued American lives more under outcome competition. Experiments 2 and 3 extended this finding by illustrating ethnocentric valuation even when large numbers of lives were at stake: The number of lives at stake mattered less for enemy civilians than it did for conational combatants. Experiment 4 provided additional evidence of this ethnocentric indifference to magnitude, regardless of combatant status of the conationals' lives. In all experiments, individual difference measures associated with prejudice (e.g., group identification and prejudice, empathy, social dominance orientation, social attitudes) corresponded to ethnocentric valuation measured in decisions. Results demonstrate that categorization, competitive context, and individual propensities for prejudice influence how much one values lives.

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