Dehumanization and mass violence: A study of mental state language in Nazi propaganda (1927–1945)

Alexander P. Landry*, Ram I. Orr, Kayla Mere

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dehumanization is frequently cited as a precursor to mass violence, but quantitative support for this notion is scarce. The present work provides such support by examining the dehumanization of Jews in Nazi propaganda. Our linguistic analysis suggests that Jews were progressively denied the capacity for fundamentally human mental experiences leading up to the Holocaust. Given that the recognition of another’s mental experience promotes moral concern, these results are consistent with the theory that dehumanization facilitates violence by disengaging moral concern. However, after the onset of the Holocaust, our results suggest that Jews were attributed a greater capacity for agentic mental states. We speculate this may reflect a process of demonization in which Nazi propagandists portrayed the Jews as highly capable of planning and intentionality while nonetheless possessing a subhuman moral character. These suggestive results paint a nuanced portrait of the temporal dynamics of dehumanization during the Holocaust and provide impetus for further empirical scrutiny of dehumanization in ecologically valid contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0274957
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11 November
StatePublished - Nov 2022


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