Biases Around How People’s Intellectual Contribution Is Valued; Prejudicial and Biased Reasoning as Illogical and Irrational

This is the first of three essays examining biases which affect how people are valued.  The second part focuses on Implicit and Explicit Bias which commonly manifest in forms of racism.  As a foundation to understanding why some people are listened to and valued, and why others are ignored and ‘un-valued’ [Dunedin, 2017], I have been scouring the field of psychology dedicated to studying the processes of dehumanisation.

I used to be your neighbour


In this series of posts I am examining how the marginalisation of the contributions of others might indicate dehumanisation processes going on in the individuals and organisations who are in privileged positions.


Introduction to Dehumanisation

Considerable research has been done on how distinctions form the basis of ingroups and outgroups. Groups naturally form amongst social animals, which human beings should be firstly recognized as, and within these groups hierarchies develop delineating what opportunities are to be had by whom.


It is as easy to see amongst humans as it is amongst chimpanzees. I suggest that an examination of human culture can be made on the basis of how diminished a person is in terms of outgroup status, and from this we can understand more greatly the constraints which prevent individuals from transcending many of the issues which they face.


In other words, we can look at the marginalisation of an individual in terms of how dehumanised they are in relation to those with privileged status. Those with privileged status are caught within the tendencies of being depicted as exemplary human beings as well as believe this to be the case.


With this kind of framework we have available to us a set of tools with which to deconstruct complex intersectional sociological phenomena and bring into relation outgroups which tend to get discussed in abstract and through this become further marginalised through this abstraction.


With a unifying framework such as dehumanisation psychology we can start reconciling disparate groups and affect the re-creation of systems of distinction via a conscious and raised awareness of the psychological processes acting to diminish people. Similarly it provides us with a set of tools to understand our individual set of circumstances and read the opportunities which will likely be extended to us from people and organisations of privilege.


Here is a talk given by Prof Susan Fiske on ‘Varieties of (De)Humanizing – Divided by Status & Competition’ which is a very good primer for the subject matter which I will be exploring in this paper.


Prejudicial and Biased Reasoning as Illogical and Irrational

To reach an understanding of the reality which transcends our fictions as the human creature, first we need to acknowledge and understand some of the basic psychology that underpins group behaviours which majorly influence the formation of social groups.


One of the most obvious demonstrations of the role which the mind plays is in our apprehension of the world, and by this virtue it shapes how we see the world and behave within it. A large range of cognitive biases operate within our psychology affecting how we perceive and act towards others in given situations.


“Where biases exists, individuals draw inferences or adopt beliefs where the evidence for doing so in a logically sound manner is either insufficient or absent.” (Haselton, Nettle & Andrews, 2005)


It is within the framework of cognitive bias that I discuss a collection of behaviours which relate to dehumanising processes. Dr Lasana Harris and Prof Susan Fisk discuss dehumanisation as a cognitive bias in their paper ‘Dehumanized Perception A Psychological Means to Facilitate Atrocities, Torture, and Genocide?’ (Harris & Fiske, 2011). Prof Nick Haslam’s work discusses dehumanization into the context of “an everyday social phenomenon rooted in social-cognitive processes”. (Haslam, 2006)


Click to Download a copy of 'Dehumanization An Integrative Review'
Click to Download a copy of ‘Dehumanization An Integrative Review’


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Beliefs and Inferences which Reinforce Prejudice

I am interested in examining the beliefs and/or inferences which reinforce prejudicial treatment in relation to the knowledge and abilities which people hold and can demonstrate. In this inquiry central to the proposition that I make is that we are not dealing with rational phenomena, but instead products of psychology which lack logical coherence and thus should be regarded as such.


This is a thesis which reaches towards practical understandings of why and how prejudices can remain so stubbornly ingrained in behaviours and cultures even though bodies of logical evidence indicate that alternative behaviours are both more ethical and fruitful for all concerned.


This is in light of the continued cultural and structural prejudices which we find in our day to day lives such as we see in the disadvantage meted out to women, the poor, the criminalised, the black and minority ethnic communities, the disabled communities, the drug using communities, certain populations with illness and other sets of people which we can understand as “outgroups”.


Many of Eschers pictures involve visual representations of strange loops


I am relating prejudicial treatment to behaviours which defy the logic of valuing one set of people with the same outcomes to another set of people with evident equal capabilities or attributes.


Prejudices act to create cognitive biases which manifest as an inability for some individuals to be able to recognize the value of other individuals as equitable, capable, thinking, feeling beings. At the same time, this is an examination of how cognitive biases can create the prejudices completing the strange loop (Hofstadter, 2008).


Understanding our capacity to create our own reality is an important step to being able to develop some reality-checking apparatus that will help us escape the delusions that keep us from seeing a bigger, truer picture – ultimately one which transcends the narcissistic solipsism that places human beings and ultimately our own ego as the centre of all things.


Douglas Hofstadter as a professor of cognitive science has made a significant contribution to our understandings of how self reference can create such strange loops as I argue we find in prejudice.


He reports: “In her book Our Inner Conflicts, for instance, Horney spoke of the ‘idealized image’ one forms of oneself. Although her primary focus was how we suffer from our neuroses, what she said had much wider applicability. …It [the idealized image] represents a kind of artistic creation in which opposites appear reconciled…


The idealized image might be called a fictitious or illusory self, but that would be only a half truth and hence misleading. The wishful thinking operating in its creation is certainly striking, particularly since it occurs in persons who otherwise stand on a ground of firm reality.” (Hofstadter, page 185, 2008)


It is this ‘idealized self’ which can act to distort our apprehension of a form of reality that transcends our own resulting in our imposition of our ideal onto the world beyond colonizing it with all the force and hubris required to bring about misery and suffering.


“In the end, we are self-perceiving, self-inventing, locked-in mirages that are little miracles of self-reference. We believe in marbles that disintegrate when we search for them but that are as real as any genuine marble when we’re not looking for them. ” (Hofstadter, page 363, 2008)


Acknowledging this in a critical way I argue is vital to understanding how exclusion and poverty are recreated through complex systems of reinforcement based around difference (Luhmann, 2006). Differences can propose themselves as manifest rather than imagined when left unexamined, but on many occasions when explored the discovery is made that the differences were illusory; they were assumptions meted out from the fiction of the idealized self.


The Sociological Imagination by C Wright Mills

Key to this acknowledgement is recognising how widespread and common place prejudices are, acting in our everyday perception and affecting how we act in the world in relation to others. Using the language of C. Wright Mills, we can detect troubled relationships with others and perceive issues which are looming over the circumstances affecting how we behave in context.


“Social science deals with problems of biography, of history and of their intersections within social structures…biography, history, [and] society are the co-ordinate points of the proper study of man” (Mills, 1959)

Deconstructing Discrimination: Sexism

In this paper I am trying to deconstruct discrimination via the psychology of dehumanisation and relate it in tangible, practical form to what is happening at large in society, at the same time as generating an understanding of how social structures and processes affect and inform the individual in these contexts.


It is through relating personal troubles in biography with social issues understood in history that we can better come to understand society through a critical lens thus gaining agency through knowledge.


In other words; by understanding my troubles through my experience to larger patterns happening in the world I can better understand the circumstances I encounter through questioning what is going on thus giving me more information to control my own actions.


He urges the thinker to ‘always keep your eyes open to the image of man’ – the generic notion of human nature, as well as to the image of history and how history is being made. He suggests we should be continually in a process of revising our views of the problems of history, the problems of biography, and the problems of social structure in which biography and history intersect.


We need only look at the history of how women have been treated to see how dominant paradigms have actively diminished half of the world’s population from nearly all realms of human endeavour.


In the context of this paper I suggest that the reason why women have overwhelmingly been attributed fewer capabilities, less cognitive capacity and ultimately given fewer opportunities in life (Oxfam Briefing Paper Summary, 2016) is because they have been the victims of normalised and codified dehumanising processes which are everyday problems.


If we are to get past the fictions we have created which limit us from seeing the world as it is – thus allowing us to make decisions informed by truths that transcend the ego – we must be comfortable with examining our individual complicity with forms of prejudice. We must understand how we are replicating the inequities within our implicit behaviours.


Prejudices and bias become encoded in organisations and institutions, in paperworks and bureaucracies, ceremony and social structure, all of which ritually reinforce the outcome which our prejudices navigate us towards.


In ‘Beyond Bias and Barriers; Fulfilling The Potential of Women In Academic Science and Engineering’, a study was carried out by the Committee on Maximizing the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine finding (Etats-Unis, 2007) the findings were summarized under the headings:


  • Women have the ability and drive to succeed in science and engineering
  • Women who are interested in science and engineering careers are lost at every educational transition
  • The problem is not simply the pipeline. In several fields, the pipeline has reached gender parity
  • Women are very likely to face discrimination in every field of science and engineering
  • A substantial body of evidence establishes that most people, men and women, hold implicit biases
  • Evaluation criteria contain arbitrary and subjective components that disadvantage women
  • Academic organizational structures and rules contribute significantly to the underuse of women in academic science and engineering
  • The consequences of not acting will be detrimental to the nation’s competitiveness


Click to Download: 'Beyond Bias and Barriers Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering'
Click to Download: ‘Beyond Bias and Barriers Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering’


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This is a litmus for the biases which are active in our culture and an indication of the kinds of forces which are active against those less privileged – technically the outgroups which are formed by the marginalised in different contexts. These biases all count towards an active diminishing of people to less-than-equal; to being ultimately treated as less human in the scheme of things.


Even something as simple as running in a race – a sporting competition which inherently should be open for involvement – can become closed for diminished groups of people. In the 1967 Boston Marathon Women’s rights campaigner Kathrine Switzer was attacked when she did test the bounds and became the first woman to run the race with an official number.


The Telegraph have written an article on her: Meet the first woman to run the Boston Marathon (illegally) 50 years ago – now 70, she’s about do it again


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In the above case it is women being kept from the fields of cultural and intellectual production, a range of opportunities in life, gaining an income, from having their ideas understood as intrinsically valuable or input as equal. Prof Gustav Jahoda did some work examining how women had been overtly dehumanized (Jahoda, 2014).


Looking at the work of a famous naturalist Carl Vogt in the 1860s we find gross reductions of the black communities to animal comparisons. In his work he mostly developed narratives targeting males as he thought that the female is always nearer the animal type.


Gustave LeBon, famously known for writing what is considered a groundbreaking work on crowd psychology ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind‘ in 1895 wrote of women:


“All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women…. recognise today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and are much closer to children and savages than to adult civilized man”


These attitudes echo throughout the halls of academia and all fields of cultural production, in tacit ways, in structural ways and sometimes in overt ways. We must now look at history and gaze for what is not there knowing even in this single acknowledgment how half the worlds population has been actively dehumanized and written out of representation.


This is the tip of the iceberg in regards to scrutinization of how women have been diminished to less than they are in whole human terms. It continues today and is very much a part of our lives, organisations and conventions. Each element discussed in this paper is a subject in itself, so hopefully this will act as presenting a series of doorways which you as a reader and thinker will go through and explore.


For example there is an extensive literature on the objectification of women describing how individuals are reduced to mere instruments for the use of others. This has ramifications for the mental health of women as explored by Fredrickson and Roberts in their work ‘Objectification Theory; Toward Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks’:


Click to Download: 'Objection Theory Toward Understanding Womens Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks'
Click to Download: ‘Objection Theory Toward Understanding Womens Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks’


Online Source

As pointed out by Kasey Lynn Morris, “philosophers, feminist scholars and psychologist agree that objectification involves a denial of humanity” and so objectification is a key part of dehumanisation (Morris, 2013).


Martha Nussbaum places instrumentality as a key element of objectification or dehumanization. By treating another person merely as a means to an end, the individual is dehumanized because they have been reduced to being a mere tool – an object. (Nussbaum, 2000).



We must exercise our understanding that these dark, dehumanising forces are at work in many and varied contexts as we will be exploring in the following parts (online posts) of the paper…