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      A Postcolonial Feminist Critique of Harem Analogies in Psychological Science


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          Since the 1930s, psychologists have used the term harem as an analogy for social relations among animals. In doing so they draw upon gendered and racial stereotypes located in the history of colonialism. We present an experimental study on the harem analogy as a means of confronting and challenging colonial undercurrents in psychological science. We investigated whether the use of this colonialist image in studies of animal societies could subtly affect thinking about Middle Eastern Muslim people. Two-hundred and forty-nine participants read about animal societies; in the experimental condition these were described as “harems” and accompanied by the analogy of harems in Middle Eastern Muslim societies. In the two control conditions, animal societies were either described as “groups” or “harems”, with no mention of the analogy. In the experimental condition, participants falsely remembered descriptions of Muslim people of the Middle East as applying to animals. This finding replicates the “resistance is futile” effect (Blanchette & Dunbar, 2002; Perrott, Gentner, & Bodenhausen, 2005) by which false remembering of analogical statements as previously seen literal descriptions is taken as suggestive of analogical mapping between two disparate concepts. As such, the study contributes to debate between feminist and evolutionary psychology about the value-neutrality of psychology, and to postcolonial critique of the partiality of mainstream psychological accounts of the universality of nature and society.

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          The weirdest people in the world?

          Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior in the world's top journals based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) societies. Researchers - often implicitly - assume that either there is little variation across human populations, or that these "standard subjects" are as representative of the species as any other population. Are these assumptions justified? Here, our review of the comparative database from across the behavioral sciences suggests both that there is substantial variability in experimental results across populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species - frequent outliers. The domains reviewed include visual perception, fairness, cooperation, spatial reasoning, categorization and inferential induction, moral reasoning, reasoning styles, self-concepts and related motivations, and the heritability of IQ. The findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies, including young children, are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Many of these findings involve domains that are associated with fundamental aspects of psychology, motivation, and behavior - hence, there are no obvious a priori grounds for claiming that a particular behavioral phenomenon is universal based on sampling from a single subpopulation. Overall, these empirical patterns suggests that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin, and rather unusual, slice of humanity. We close by proposing ways to structurally re-organize the behavioral sciences to best tackle these challenges.
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            On seeing human: a three-factor theory of anthropomorphism.

            Anthropomorphism describes the tendency to imbue the real or imagined behavior of nonhuman agents with humanlike characteristics, motivations, intentions, or emotions. Although surprisingly common, anthropomorphism is not invariant. This article describes a theory to explain when people are likely to anthropomorphize and when they are not, focused on three psychological determinants--the accessibility and applicability of anthropocentric knowledge (elicited agent knowledge), the motivation to explain and understand the behavior of other agents (effectance motivation), and the desire for social contact and affiliation (sociality motivation). This theory predicts that people are more likely to anthropomorphize when anthropocentric knowledge is accessible and applicable, when motivated to be effective social agents, and when lacking a sense of social connection to other humans. These factors help to explain why anthropomorphism is so variable; organize diverse research; and offer testable predictions about dispositional, situational, developmental, and cultural influences on anthropomorphism. Discussion addresses extensions of this theory into the specific psychological processes underlying anthropomorphism, applications of this theory into robotics and human-computer interaction, and the insights offered by this theory into the inverse process of dehumanization. PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved.
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              Dehumanization: an integrative review.

              The concept of dehumanization lacks a systematic theoretical basis, and research that addresses it has yet to be integrated. Manifestations and theories of dehumanization are reviewed, and a new model is developed. Two forms of dehumanization are proposed, involving the denial to others of 2 distinct senses of humanness: characteristics that are uniquely human and those that constitute human nature. Denying uniquely human attributes to others represents them as animal-like, and denying human nature to others represents them as objects or automata. Cognitive underpinnings of the "animalistic" and "mechanistic" forms of dehumanization are proposed. An expanded sense of dehumanization emerges, in which the phenomenon is not unitary, is not restricted to the intergroup context, and does not occur only under conditions of conflict or extreme negative evaluation. Instead, dehumanization becomes an everyday social phenomenon, rooted in ordinary social-cognitive processes.

                Author and article information

                J Soc Polit Psych
                Journal of Social and Political Psychology
                J. Soc. Polit. Psych.
                21 August 2015
                : 3
                : 1
                : 257-275
                [a ]School of Psychology, University of Surrey, Guildford, United Kingdom
                [2]Department of Psychology and Women's Studies, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA, USA
                [3]University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, USA
                Author notes
                [* ]Natasha Bharj is now at the Department of Psychology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS 66045, USA. n.bharj@ 123456ku.edu
                Copyright @

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                : 31 January 2013
                : 09 April 2014
                Special Thematic Section on "Decolonizing Psychological Science"

                resistance is futile framework,analogy,metaphor,harem,feminist psychology,scientific racism,postcolonial feminism


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