Jeroen Vaes


How, why and when do we see other people as less than human? What are the consequences of such perceptions? How, why and when do we see non-human entities as human-like? These are central questions in the current area of research that aims to show that people scale other people on the human dimension, dehumanizing some and granting full humanness to others.

In addition, processes of anthropomorphism in which people assign human attributes and qualities to non-human entities (i.e., animals, inanimate objects) are tested. Within this line of research not only the basic premises of these processes are tested, also its consequences are studied in a variety of contexts: intergroup relations, the sexual objectification of women, the patient-physician relationship…

To test these hypotheses, insights and multiple methodologies from social and cognitive psychology, and social neuroscience are used including, cognitive behavioral measures, EEG, and physiological measures.

Research directions

Sexual objectification

Literally speaking objectification means treating or perceiving someone like a something. In the case of sexual objectification this someone is often a woman that is treated as a body, reduced to her physical features, regarded as if they were capable of representing her.

This body-focus has shown to lead to different forms of dehumanization and negative consequences for the objectified. The current line of research aims to understand when and why sexual objectification becomes dehumanizing and what these dehumanizing perceptions imply.

Interestingly, sexual objectification towards women is enacted by both male and female participants, but for different reasons. These diverging motivations are studied providing explanations why people engage in sexual objectification.

Empathy and humanness

The success of every human interaction hinges on empathic processes. Empathy – broadly defined as the ability to share and infer other's affective experiences – enables us to understand other's thoughts and emotions and adapt and regulate our own thoughts, emotions and behaviors as a result.

In the current line of research, the main hypothesis that human inferences lie at the basis of any empathic reaction is tested. More specifically, it is expected that attributing human qualities to non-human entities (i.e., anthropomorphism) is a necessary condition for empathy to occur, while processes of dehumanization will temper empathic reactions towards humans.

The current research project uses both EEG and cognitive behavioral measures.

Defensive dehumanization

Defensive dehumanization is a process through which people downregulate their emotional involvement with suffering others. While attributions of humanness are expected to increase empathic reactions (see Empathy and humanness), increasing the empathic demand in a situation will not always increase the attribution of humanness to a suffering target.

The current line of research aims to identify the conditions under which people put up such emotional barriers through the dehumanization of suffering others. 

Dehumanization in intergroup relations

History abounds with examples in which people from different groups denied a full human status to the members of outgroups. The current line of research studies this phenomenon in a large range of intergroup contexts defining the variables that underlie and moderate outgroup dehumanization and the consequences it produces.

Internal collaborations

Maria Paola Paladino, Associate Professor
Veronica Mazza, Associate Professor
Carlotta Cogoni, post-doc


2008 European Association of Social Psychology Jos Jaspars Early Career Award recognizing early career scientific achievements in Social Psychology

External collaborations

Brock Bastian, University of Queensland, Australia
Daryl Cameron, Penn State University, USA
Steve Loughnan, University of Edinburgh, UK
Federica Meconi, University of Birmingham, UK
Paola Sessa, University of Padova
Maria Giuseppina Pacilli, Università di Perugia, Italia
Paolo Riva, Università di Milano-Bicocca, Italia
Marco Brambilla, Università di Milano-Bicocca, Italia

Selected publications

Scientific articles:

  • Vaes, J., Meconi, F., Sessa, P., & Olechowski, M. (2016). Minimal humanity cues induce neural empathic reactions towards non-human entities. Neuropsychologia, 89, 132-140.
  • Miranda, M. P., Gouveia-Pereira, M., & Vaes, J. (2014). When in Rome… Identification and acculturation strategies among minority members moderate the dehumanization of the majority outgroup. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44, 327-336.
  • Vaes, J., & Muratore, M. (2013). Defensive dehumanization in the medical practice: A cross-sectional study from a health care worker’s perspective. British Journal of Social Psychology, 52, 180-190.
  • Leyens, J. Ph., Demoulin, S., Vaes, J., Gaunt, R., Paladino, M. P. (2007). Infra-humanization: The Wall of Group Differences. Social Issues and Policy Review, 1, 139-172.
  • Vaes, J., Leyens, J. Ph., Paladino, M. P., Miranda, M. P. (2012). We are human, they are not: Driving forces behind outgroup dehumanization and the humanization of the ingroup. European Review of Social Psychology, 23, 64-106.
  • Vaes, J. Paladino, M.P., Puvia, E., (2011). Are sexualized women complete human beings? Why males and females dehumanize sexually objectified women. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 774-785
  • Vaes, J., Heflick, N., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2010). “We are people”: In-group humanization as an existential defense. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 750-760.
  • Vaes, J., Paladino, M. P., Castelli, L., Leyens, J-Ph., & Giovanazzi, A. (2003). On the behavioral consequences of infra-humanization: The implicit role of uniquely human emotions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 1016-1034.
  • Leyens, J-Ph., Paladino, M. P., Rodriguez, R. T., Vaes, J., Demoulin, S., Rodriguez, A. P., & Gaunt, R. (2000). The emotional side of prejudice: The attribution of secondary emotions to ingroups and outgroups. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4, 186-197


  • Bain, P., Vaes, J., & Leyens, J. Ph. (2014). Humanness and dehumanization. New York: Psychology Press.


Further information can be found at the following webpage: SMABLab - Social mind and behavior lab