Animalistic Dehumanization of Older People by Younger Ones: Variations of Humanness Perceptions as a Function of a Target’s Age

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Abstract

The present work investigated associations of older people with humanness. Focusing on complementary approaches (attribute-based, metaphor-based, and target-based), 4 studies tested the hypothesis that older people are the targets of animalistic dehumanization. Using an emotional attribution task, Study 1 (N = 112) explored infrahumanization and shows that young participants attributed more uniquely human emotions to young people than to older ones. No such effect occurred with regards to nonuniquely human emotions. Results of Study 2 (N = 62) replicated this result using a lexical-decision task. Using the metaphor-based approach, Study 3 (N = 99) confirmed that older people’s dehumanization is restricted to its animalistic form and does not extend to the mechanistic one. Finally, in Study 4 (N = 167), we used a target-based approach and showed that characteristics initially attributed to older people are perceived as denoting lesser humanness than when these same characteristics are associated with younger people. Results of the 4 studies provide evidence for an animalistic form of dehumanization of older people by younger ones. Limits, implications, and future research are discussed.

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