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Our Enemies Are Human. That’s Why We Want to Kill Them

Tage Rai, Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Jesse Graham: Dehumanization allows perpetrators to commit violence to satisfy instrumental goals and self-interest, but perpetrators do not dehumanize victims when they are morally motivated to see them suffer. Specifically, our experiments reveal two classes of motives for violence. One kind of violence is driven by instrumental gain, wherein people do not desire to harm victims but knowingly harm them in order to achieve some other objective (shooting someone in order to steal their money). Dehumanizing victims enables this kind of instrumental violence. The second kind of violence, however, is driven by moral sentiments, wherein people actively desire to harm victims they feel deserve it. This moral violence only emerges when perpetrators see victims as capable of thinking, experiencing sensations, and having moral emotions. In other words, when perpetrators see their victims as human.

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