Summary and Keywords
Intergroup metaphors represent human groups as nonhuman entities, such as animals, objects, plants, or forces of nature. These metaphors are abundant, diverse in meanings, and frequently but not invariably derogatory. Intergroup metaphors may be explicitly represented in language or implicitly represented as nonconscious mental associations. Research and theory on dehumanization offer a useful perspective on these metaphors, and show that likening outgroups to animals is a particularly common phenomenon. Frequently, groups are metaphorically compared to disgusting or degrading animals during times of conflict, but people also tend to view members of outgroups as subtly more animal-like or primitive than their own group even in the absence of conflict.
Depending on the use of intergroup metaphors in the contexts of race, gender, social class, immigration, mental illness, and terrorism, intergroup metaphors can have damaging consequences for intergroup relations. Metaphors that represent some people as subhuman entities can diminish empathy and compassion for their suffering. Metaphors that represent certain groups as bestial or diabolical can enable violence, including support for harsh treatment by the state. Some metaphors not only promote violence and discrimination but also help people to legitimize violent behavior and injustice after the fact. Metaphors therefore offer an intriguing insight into the nature of intergroup relations, and how these relations are colored not only by positive or negative attitudes but also by dehumanizing perceptions.
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