But research led by the University of Iowa has found another reason for dehumanizing outcasts: emotional exhaustion. People are more likely to deny a homeless drug addict human qualities when they believe that helping the person would be too overwhelming or emotionally exhausting, according to a set of studies.
However, when researchers suggested empathizing with such an individual would be emotionally inspiring and rewarding, participants changed their perspective.
“If you think empathy for this target will be exhausting, you show this dehumanizing effect,” says Daryl Cameron, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at the UI and lead author of the study. “But if you think empathy is going to be inspiring and rewarding, dehumanization goes away. It’s not that they become more likely to humanize the stigmatized target, it’s just that the dehumanizing effect goes away.”