New Survey of Alt-Right Uncovers Striking Empathy Gap

Fiber Team
Aug 16, 2017 · 3 min read

A recent survey of hundreds of alt-right (Alternative Right) members and supporters has revealed what amounts to a startling empathy gap between members of the insurgent political movement and the rest of the population. The survey was compiled by psychologists Patrick Forscher and Nour Kteily, and publicized in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville.

Among the study’s most notable findings is the fact that those who consider themselves a part of the alt-right are much more likely to perceive nonwhite and/or non-male individuals as less ‘evolved,’ or less human. Asked to rate the ‘humanity’ of different groups on a scale of 0–100 (with 100 signifying ‘fully human’) alt-right members consistently ranked minority groups as being less human than white American men. Average responses for Muslims, black people, and Mexicans were 55.4, 64.7, and 67.7, respectively. For the control groups surveyed, responses never dipped below 80 for any group, making the discrepancy between the alt-right and control group about one whole standard deviation. Men, Americans, and white people topped out the list with 88.5, 88.6, and 91.8, respectively. The vast majority of alt-right members fall into most or all of those three categories.

Dehumanization functions as an empathy blocker, allowing one who engages in it to commit violent acts against an enemy or group of enemies while mitigating the guilt one might feel after harming a ‘real person.’ The practical, real-world effects of this kind of categoric dehumanization are not hard to imagine — they were in fact on display in Charlottesville, when one alt-right man drove a car into a crowd of counter protesters, killing one woman and wounding many more. That’s something he likely wouldn’t have felt able to do or justified in doing had he been able to engage empathetically with the people he was intent on hurting.

But having a mindset that dehumanizes others can have less visible effects as well, ones that infiltrate everyday encounters. The alt-right members surveyed, for example, also reported that they were much more likely to actively avoid interactions with black people on the day to day. But total insulation in this day and age are all but impossible, and conflicts stemming from this dehumanizing perspective are bound to occur.

All of this, however, isn’t to say that the alt-right is the beginning and end of this issue. Though they may currently be a more pressing threat, there were also concerning numbers coming from the control group. On the dehumanization scale, it’s true that the control group scored even the lowest categories far higher than the alt-right, but they were still down in the 80’s for some of them. If the control group is meant to represent the U.S. population as a whole, it certainly appears like the rest of us still have plenty more work to be doing. That each and every category on the survey did not receive a perfect score of 100 (or, again, ‘fully human’) is enough to make clear that the alt-right aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from a more humanizing worldview.

Check out the full survey and report here, and read Vox’s stellar, in-depth breakdown of the results here.

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