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When the lens is too wide: The political consequences of the visual dehumanization of refugees

Azevedo, Ruben T., De Beukelaer, Sophie, Jones, Isla L., Safra, Lou, Tsakiris, Manos (2021) When the lens is too wide: The political consequences of the visual dehumanization of refugees. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, . E-ISSN 2662-9992. (doi:10.1057/s41599-021-00786-x) (KAR id:93637)


Photojournalistic images shape our understanding of sociopolitical events. How humans are depicted in images may have far-reaching consequences for our attitudes towards them. Social psychology has shown how the visualization of an ‘identifiable victim effect’ can elicit empathic responses. However, images of identifiable victims in the media are the exception rather than the norm. In the context of the Syrian refugee crisis, the majority of images in Western media depicted refugees as large unidentifiable groups. While the effects of the visual depiction of single individuals are well-known, the ways in which the visual framing of large groups operates, and its social and political consequences, remain unknown. We here focus on the visual depiction of refugees to understand how exposure to the dominant visual framing used in the media, depicting them in large groups of faceless individuals, affects their dehumanization and sets off political consequences. To that end we brought together insights from social psychology, social sciences and the humanities to test a range of hypotheses using methods from social and political psychology in 10 studies with the participation of 3951 European citizens. Seeing images of large groups resulted in greater implicit dehumanization compared with images depicting refugees in small groups. Images of large groups are also explicitly rated as more dehumanizing, and when coupled with meta-data such as newspaper headlines, images continue to play a significant and independent role on how (de)humanizing we perceive such news coverage to be. Moreover, after viewing images of large groups, participants showed increased preference for more dominant and less trustworthy-looking political leaders and supported fewer pro-refugee policies and more anti-refugee policies. In terms of a mechanistic understanding of these effects, the extent to which participants felt pity for refugees depicted in large groups as opposed to small groups mediated the effect of visual framing on the choice of a more authoritarian-looking leader. What we see in the media and how it is shown not only has consequences for the ways in which we relate to other human beings and our behaviour towards them but, ultimately, for the functioning of our political systems.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1057/s41599-021-00786-x
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Ruben Andre Teixeira Azevedo
Date Deposited: 17 Mar 2022 15:05 UTC
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2022 10:46 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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