Dehumanizing Language: Portrayals of Muslim and Non-Muslim Perpetrators of Mass Shootings in the Media

Presenter: Samantha Goldman

Research Category:
Student Type: Undergraduate
Additional Authors: Kristhy Bartels, Ally Lowitz, Nicole Betz, John Coley
PI: John Coley
Award Winner Category: Social Sciences, Business and Law

Within the last few decades, mass shootings, and the subsequent media coverage of them, have become a pervasive part of the American news cycle. This study examines by what means and to what degree the media dehumanizes the perpetrators of these mass shootings, and whether this varies by perpetrator religion (Muslim vs. Non-Muslim). To test this, we will code a series of newspaper and video articles for language consistent with either mechanistic or animalistic dehumanization. We predict that the media will discuss Muslim perpetrators in terms relating to animals  (e.g., full of rage, out of control, savage, etc.) but will discuss Non-Muslim shooters in terms relating to automata (e.g., unfeeling, cold, robotic, etc.). This distinction is based on Haslam’s (2006) model of dehumanization, which divides the denial of humanity into two main categories: comparison to animals (i.e., animalistic) and comparisons to automata (i.e., mechanistic). We expect that the findings will fall in line with Haslam’s horizontal/vertical interpretation of these types of dehumanization, wherein animalistic dehumanization places a group underneath another in a metaphorical space, but mechanistic dehumanization places a group separate from another yet on the same social level. By this theory, out-groups are often placed beneath an in-group. Therefore, we expect to find that religious out-groups (i.e., Muslims) will be portrayed as animalistic (i.e., below) and Non-Muslims will be portrayed as mechanistic (i.e., separate). If Muslims are dehumanized in this way, this will create a paradigm in which they are socially subjugated.