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Academic - LiveI’m Nour Kteily, a social psychologist at Northwestern University studying the recent rise in dehumanization, and thinking about effective ways to counteract it. AMA!

Oct 30th 2017 by nour_kteily • 28 Questions • 7236 Points

My short bio:

Our indie game development company turned 5 years old today. Two years ago we were at the brink of bankruptcy with my brother, after 3 years of work we had $50 000 in debt. Today, after a long series of events caused by a Reddit post and Redditors rushing to help, I paid it off, and our company is now debt-free!

 

Our Story:

5 years ago I had embarked on an unpredictable journey with my brother, after one year of hard work we managed to release our very first game accompanied by a lot of excitement. Excitement soon turned to disappointment, total sales ended up at $1000. After some contemplation, we decided we were not ready to give up on our dream.

 However, to give ourselves a chance, we needed to take a loan of $50 000. Through a series of coincidences, a third person appeared in our lives, and it quickly dawned upon us he had been the missing link. We grabbed him with us and started on a new game, which in hindsight ended up taking way too much time. After almost two years of work our second game was released and ended up with $2000 in total sales.

  Devastated and with very limited funds left, we made a 180 degree turn in our strategy. Despite everyone stating premium games were dead, we decided to try anyway. We realized spending time trying to figure out how to milk money from customers wasn't for us. We wanted to create a game, ask a fair one-time price and let players play without restrictions.

  Time was ticking, and we were developing our most ambitious game yet. We stretched as far as we could, but we eventually ran out of funds. With only $1000 left on our company account, I called our landlord and canceled our office tenancy agreement ahead of time. We thought we were done.

  But fate would have it otherwise. In my darkest moment I decided to post here on Reddit, and found myself overwhelmed from all the help we received from you Redditors. With your help our then released game (Battlevoid: Harbinger) was to send out a message to the world that the story of this small indie game development company was not yet over, and today I can happily state the game has sold over 150 000 copies across all platforms. It feels so surreal after many years of struggle.

  Through our story I want to encourage you to follow your dreams. You don't have to be super smart or know everything to try something you really want to do. We made so many mistakes on our journey, but persistence kept us alive. Let your passion guide you, stay persistent and be ready to learn new things every day.

  The gaming industry is ruthless, and we continue on one game at a time. Today we released a new game into our "Battlevoid" series on Steam, Google Play and Apple App Store and once again we are excited to see how it will fare out there among all the other games. Feel free to ask me anything about our journey, our games, game development in general or the gaming industry!

 

My Proof: Battlevoid Twitter

Q:

Is 'us vs them' too ingrained that we will never transcend it? How fast can our minds create an enemy in someone else we were otherwise always totally neutral towards?

A:

Congrats. I feel like I'm you before the big successful part... so um, you hiring?


Q:

There's a lot of work suggesting that Us vs. Them tendencies are a very common feature of human psychology. Mina Cikara and colleagues (along with my frequent collaborator Emile Bruneau) have done some fascinating work in this area (see http://cdp.sagepub.com/content/20/3/149.short). People like Josh Greene at Harvard psych have also written extensively about us vs. them tendencies (see his book Moral Tribes). Some work suggests that even group membership created on highly minimal grounds (like whether you overestimate or underestimate the number of jellybeans in a jar) can generate ingroup favoritism. So, I do definitely think that we have a high capacity for intergroup hostility.

That said, I don't think these dynamics are insurmountable. Josh Greene and Paul Bloom and others have written about using rational thought/compassion to overcome intergroup biases. In some of my own work linked above (in my intro), we've been showing how to reduce the tendency to blame entire outgroup (e.g., all Muslims) for the acts of a few (ISIS attackers). Other work has shown that creating common goals between groups can reduce animus. As people like Steve Pinker have pointed out, we've also made tremendous gains in reducing inter-group violence across human history through creating certain norms (like universal human rights) and institutions (like the E.U. and other entities that link groups to one another economically and politically). So, it's hard, but not insurmountable!

A:

We're not big and successful yet, just out of the hole that we were in and really happy to be able to continue developing games.

Hiring, huh! Are you willing to move to Finland?


Q:

Steven Pinker goes by Steve, so people in the psych field usually call him "Steve". (Source: also in the psych field)

A:

Hey! I played your game. Pretty awesome!


Q:

Indeed. No disrespect was implied. I actually took a class in which he was one of the instructors, from which I learned a great deal during my graduate studies.

A:

Hi! That's awesome, did you find any bugs?


Q:

Do social networks and big data make people dehumanize one another? Any difference between anonymous social networks and ones where users have to use their real identity?

A:

Is it a coincidence or does finland have some kind of advantages for indie game developers? I swear 5 posts I see about people developing a game either lives or moves to finland


Q:

There are a few reasons why it might: some subtle forms of dehumanization involves simply treating others like a number (for example: thinking of an athlete as nothing more than his/her stats). This is facilitated to some extent, I would think, by the social distance. You're less likely to see an athlete as nothing more than his/her RBI if you were sitting face-to-face with them. Interacting online versus in person similarly creates a social distance, and removes not only social cues that can reduce misunderstandings but also reduces the "social tuning" behaviors we engage in when we're actually face-to-face with someone. Work on drone strikes versus face-to-face combat relatedly suggests that it's easier to kill someone when you're pushing a button thousands of miles away. I'm not sure if there's work specifically on anonymous social networks vs ones where people use their real identity, but my guess is that anonymity would facilitate any nasty tendencies by removing the reputational concerns that are a major part of human psychology.

A:

Finland has opportunities, much more so than other countries for sure I would say. Much of this is thanks to Rovio and Supercell I would say, sparking a real interest in investing in gaming companies and trying to nurture them.


Q:

Are there any dehumanizing tendencies you've found that are unique to the academic setting? Do you have any latitude in deploying countermeasures within your department or the surrounding school?

A:

Have you ever considered making a multiplayer game? Also I recommend linking your patreon or starting a kickstarter for a new game, I imagine it would be very successful


Q:

I'm not sure how unique academia per se is in this regard, but like other workplaces with a hierarchy, I think it's quite likely that those occupying a higher rank (e.g., professors) sometimes overlook the minds of those who occupy a lower rank (e.g., graduate students), potentially sometimes treating them as means to an end. I've not tackled this issue specifically in my own work, but I think it's incumbent on those with higher ranks to engage in perspective taking and remind themselves that they're dealing with human beings on the other side.

A:

A future Kickstarter has been on our minds regarding Space Haven! As a form of getting alpha testers.


Q:

Hi Nour,

One of your colleagues (Waytz) referred to dehumanization as "reverse-anthropomorphism". Do you think that the tendency to dehumanize and anthropomorphize others share the same social, motivational, and cognitive basis? For example, a person who see human where they shouldn't (in animals, God, clouds, etc) also is more likely not to acknowledge human traits in actual humans?

A:

Is there a special reason why you're called bugbyte? Didn't Bugbear (FlatOut 1+2) also come out of Finland? What is it with you guys and bugs? Aren't they something to avoid?


Q:

Hi! Fascinating question. I have to admit that I'm not especially expert on the bases of anthropomorphism, but to the best of my knowledge, the tendency to see humanity in non-human entities is importantly facilitated by a lack of social connection (e.g., loneliness; think Tom Hanks and Wilson in Cast Away). One reasonable prediction, then, is that fulfilling the need for social connection with other humans might reduce the tendency to ascribe humanity to other entities (even to other humans). As far as I'm aware, there is indeed some evidence supporting that prediction.

Some people have theorized that a lack of social connection and a sense of social isolation contribute to the dehumanizing attitudes of extremist groups, but there has not yet been solid empirical confirmation of that. Even if that is one important factor, I think that there are others that are likely not shared with the tendency to anthropomorphize: for example, there is good reason to think that feeling physically threatened by another group predicts overt dehumanization of them; I suspect that physical threat would be less relevant to the tendency to anthropomorphize.

A:

Haha, I don't know! When we started we didn't have any other Finnish companies on our mind.

I think we did what many others would do when trying to come up with a name. Taking industry terms and trying to combine them in a way that would create a new word of our liking. At first we were Bugbyte Productions, but later on dropped the "Productions" :)


Q:

Thanks for your response! Actually I think that feeling physically threatened might contribute to the perception of unpredictability. When people feel like the other group (or people) are unpredictable, there might be an associated sense of loss of control.

In the act of anthropomorphism, sometimes people ascribe human traits to non-humans possibly in at attempt to make them more predictable (e.g. my dog is wagging his tail, he must be happy, maybe this thing that I did made him happy, I should do this more). Perhaps the sense of unpredictability involved in a group that might physically hurt them will contribute to the tendency to dehumanize them, just like how minority groups are often prejudiced against based on a significantly different cue (i.e. skin color).

A:

I have never heard of this game series.. But it looks awesome! Good job! My question is: Where do you see your franchise heading in the future?


Q:

Interesting! That could be. It might be helpful to read up on "effectance motivation", which I think would be relevant to your idea.

A:

It all depends on how this newest one, Battlevoid: Sector Siege manages to capture the interest of our community and new players. As long as there is interest there is always a chance we will do more into the series.

We have been working on a new and really ambitious project on the side as well. It's called Space Haven, and it's inspired by Rimworld, X-Com and FTL.

You can check out a dev blog we have for it. Starting with this post to see some screenshots: Space Haven Screenshots


Q:

I've been looking for a comprehensive introductory resource on this subject for a while, but put it on the backburner as I'm so ignorant about it I didn't know where to look or begin. Do you have any plans to write a book, or could recommend any for layman-level audiences?

Thanks.

A:

How much programming experience did you guys have when you first started?


Q:

No book plans as of yet, but if you'd like a short primer of mine on the topic written for a wide audience, I'd recommend my paper (linked in the intro) titled "Darker Demons of our Nature". I also highly recommend Haslam and Loughnan's 2014 paper (http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115045?journalCode=psych). In terms of books, I enjoyed David Livingstone Smith's "Less than Human".

A:

My brother had made a really small simple game in flash before. So not much :)

My brother is way more talented than I am though, my strategy is to be stubborn and fiddle with a problem until it is solved somehow.


Q:

"Less Then Human" was one of my textbooks for a class I took. It is short and easy to read!

A:

Thanks for the response. How about now, since you have a few more people? Are you more into game design, or do you also do development?

What does it take to have a successful team? Your history mentioned you and your brother found a 3rd person who seemed to be the missing link. Why so? Was it the ideas or expertise the other person brought to the table?

Sorry for all the questions, I've considered making games as well for many yeara, but it never seems like the "right" time, and I can never put together a committed team.


Q:

Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

A:

I'll just give you this one image and let it explain why he was the missing link: Sector Siege title art

I'm always amazed by the work he does. He made our games look how we wanted them to look. Actually, we had no idea, but when we saw what he made we were like Yes!

Finding a committed team is extremely hard, that is why so many games fail to deliver in the end. Execution is key, and without a committed team it's impossible. Developing great games take anywhere from 1-4 years, people doing it need to be very committed and stay focused. It's not easy.

I really hope you find the right people, but I think you don't really know if you are around right people until shit hits the fan and you see how they react. Are they willing to push or do they just say: "screw it all", I'm out of here.

What does it take to have a successful team? I think it takes one person knowing what that is, what kind of people are needed and how to keep them motivated and work with everyone's strengths and weaknesses.

I don't think there is ever a right time, there's just now or later. You got to take a risk to have a chance to win!


Q:

It occurs to me that, even if we're maximally successful at getting most folks to humanize most other folks, sociopaths will become more of a glaring problem the more successful we are. I also believe that sociopathy is currently mostly an advantage in our business climate.

So, we're in a position where improvement would mean ousting a lot of the people currently in positions of power over our society. I don't see a way forward in that situation, because they won't let that happen and no amount of humanist arguments are going to make them.

tl;dr if dehumanization continues to be profitable, how will opposition to it rise above a token level? Our society already permits almost any heinousness in the name of profit, if practiced judiciously and impersonally. (We won't let you rape for money - that's personal - but we'll let you sell rape whistles that don't whistle).

A:

This game caught my eye today on Steam. Why should I play it and what elements of the game are you most proud of? I'm a huge fan of FTL and Rimworld If it shares anything with those.


Q:

Hmm, I see what you mean, but I'm not sure I necessarily agree with the premise that sociopathy is inevitably profitable. This isn't directly related to your question, but I was reminded of a recent paper arguing the hedge fund managers with psychopathic tendencies actually generated worse returns (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167217733080?journalCode=pspc). Adam Grant (see his book "Give and Take") has very compellingly argued that "Givers" rather than "Takers" tend to achieve more effective outcomes in business, so long as they are not "doormats", so to speak. In the language of game theory and iterated prisoner dilemmas, in the long run, it's useful to achieve the benefits of mutual cooperation by orienting towards cooperation and seeking to bring that out in others, but individuals ought also to be 'provokable' (i.e., resorting to 'defecting' if the other party continues not to cooperate... the so-called tit-for-tat strategy described by Robert Axelrod).

I'd also note that to the extent that social norms prohibit or punish dehumanization, it will become that much less profitable. Prior to this election cycle, much of the dehumanizing rhetoric espoused would have been a campaign-ender. That was in part due to the social backlash against those who contravened the norm not to dehumanize.

A:

It's not really similar to FTL or Rimworld, it's quite far from.

The best way to describe it would be to say it is a light star craft type of game. Take away all the buildings and just build units. But the cool thing is that you get to customize every unit you build, you get to board enemy ships and then you can start building those! All the while this is happening there will be surprise warps here and there making you shift your focus frantically at times. There's also a bunch of cool tech to research, so you get to equip your units with new turrets and hangars.

The game will also challenge you, the difficulty and the AI and all the surprises can really throw you into loops.


Q:

Hey Nour,

I saw you speak at my girlfriends graduation from msms this past year, I came up and complimented you for your speech afterwards, as you were incredibly eloquent, entertaining, and effective.

How do you feel knowing you’ve made countless boyfriends/girlfriends lives harder by being such a good a good negotiations professor?

A:

How are the dynamics between the 3 of you? Is the third partner a friend or someone you found with the necessary skills you needed?


Q:

Ah yes— I remember! That was very kind of you, and much appreciated (public speaking is nerve-wracking!). And, if I taught my students well, then hopefully their partners' lives will be better off and not worse, because of all the mutual value creation ;-)

A:

We realized we couldn't do graphics all that well. So I went hunting for someone and found the guy at a university. We chatted for a little bit, but then the event continued and we got separated. Just as he was about to leave the event I shouted to him and asked if he would like to come have a look at our office.

If I would have missed him then it would have been a whole other story. He's been crucial to our success, the missing link. Someone who can make great graphics.


Q:

What kind of effect long-term do you expect from the dehumanization of people who supported the president? While I can certainly understand where people are coming from, there seems to be a lot of "they're not even people" being thrown around.

A:

How does one get into the game dev field? Where to start , what to learn etc...


Q:

One of the disconcerting things about working in this area is seeing just how dehumanizing the rhetoric has become across party lines. I'm of the mindset that robust critique is undoubtedly necessary, and I don't think that we can or even should avoid speaking out strongly against issues we find to be moral obligations (for example, speaking out against intolerance). That said, I don't think it's helpful or productive when we dehumanize those we disagree with, even those we disagree with to our core. For one, it makes the other side that much less likely to listen to us and engage with us. And secondly, our work on meta-dehumanization (i.e., feeling dehumanized by others) suggests that dehumanizing another is only likely to provoke their own dehumanization of you (provoking vicious cycles of conflict). To change someone's mind you need to see and appeal to their mind; dehumanization doesn't help on that front.

A:

Honestly if you really feel a spark to do it I would say one of the best ways would be to start online. If you can find someone who is also interested you can work together.

But we learned everything online, and by experimenting and just jumping in and giving it a try.

The best way to start is with a small game, and choose your game engine based on how well it is documented. I recommend Unity for this reason, you will find answers to your problems.


Q:

Reddit is a good test ground for examining dehumanization, especially when it comes to political views. Most political views are siloed into their own subreddits. Those who choose to participate outside their silo will be buried in downvotes, meanwhile, the aggregate viewpoint of the sub forms some type of median viewpoint of the participants. When you don't adhere to the median viewpoint, you will be dehumanized.

Typically, a well thought response to a provocative question, such as the one you gave, will result in the AMA author's response yielding a higher upvote count than the question asker. That is not the case with this response (as of now, but it's still early... EDIT: This seemed to fix itself, was 5 to 3 when I posted, it's now 8 to 14... all is right with the world), which makes me wonder if some people are having a negative visceral reaction towards allowing their political opposition to be human.

A great example is the Nazi-punching conversations that occur from time to time. There seems to be a growing sentiment that violence towards extreme viewpoints is justified, and furthermore, a move to justify that other people's words are violence. I can understand the argument, but what is scary is that the "Nazi" label is now being distributed by the same group that is advocating violence. The "Nazi" label is being very liberally applied to those who hold conservative views.

Sorry for jumbled post, but my questions for you:

  1. How do you we stop the cycle?
  2. Is Reddit a platform that amplifies dehumanization, or helps stifle it?
A:

I came here from r/linux_gaming. I don't want to pry, but I'm curious: what do your Linux sales numbers look like? Are they more than you would have expected, or less?


Q:

To copy from my response to a similar point by Diblythedude below on the Nazi point:

"I'd say it's dehumanizing to the extent that the people using the term intend it to liken whoever they're imbuing with to animals (i.e., to the extent that they see Nazis as subhuman). Whether it is or isn't dehumanization, I'm not sure it's the most helpful or productive approach, as I think there are more effective ways to level vigorous critique while still appealing to someone's mind. I don't have to agree with you, but if I acknowledge your humanity (despite being clear that I don't agree with your perspective), I'm much more likely to be able to get through to you (and less likely to make you lash out and continue whatever behavior I'm against)"

To answer the other questions:

  1. It's not easy, but I think it takes conscious effort to push ourselves to try our best to engage with the minds of those we disagree with and who we might otherwise be inclined to dismiss out of hand. I find it helpful to try to imagine the most charitable reason for why someone might hold a view I find abhorrent, and starting from there. I also think it's incumbent on us to call out our own group members when they engage in reflexive dehumanization of political opponents or those who express opposing views. Vigorous debate is a crucial part of innovation (see for example the dangers of groupthink for group performance), and playing devil's advocate for one's own position can improve the clarity of one's own thinking.

  2. As with many media, I think Reddit has both the potential for both harm and good. It depends on how it is used. Some of what I've seen from the Reddit community includes incredible acts of empathy and all-around goodness (rallying behind a person or a community in need, or even just providing helpful advice to others just to help out). Other times, and as with other media platforms, the anonymity can bring out baser instincts, and/or good intentions can go awry (the incident in trying to identify the Tsarnaev attackers comes to mind). The key isn't so much the platform, it's how we put it to use.

A:

Linux sales is 2% of total sales currently. Hehe, I would say less! But I'm happy to support it.


Q:

Do you believe that referring to a group of people with different beliefs as"Nazis" is dehumanizing? Would you say that those doing that are trying to provoke conflict with that specific group, or are there many other factors playing into this as well?

A:

and we few are very VERY happy that you support linux. Gonna check out your games after work ;)


Q:

I'd say it's dehumanizing to the extent that the people using the term intend it to liken whoever they're imbuing with to animals (i.e., to the extent that they see Nazis as subhuman). Whether it is or isn't dehumanization, I'm not sure it's the most helpful or productive approach, as I think there are more effective ways to level vigorous critique while still appealing to someone's mind. I don't have to agree with you, but if I acknowledge your humanity (despite being clear that I don't agree with your perspective), I'm much more likely to be able to get through to you (and less likely to make you lash out and continue whatever behavior I'm against)

A:

Thank you! :)


Q:

I have heard some writer or comedian, I forget who, theorizing that a big event like WW2 pulled people from their regions that otherwise wouldn't have left and combined them in teams with people they otherwise wouldn't have really bonded with. They thought that the end result was a much more unified country, and a lot more appreciation for the complexities of the 'New Yorker' or 'redneck' or whatever stereotypes they would have otherwise had. Is there any truth to that? Did exposure to each other have enormous societal benefits?

A:

What do you use to make your games and how does the process start?


Q:

I don't know this particular anecdote (perhaps you are referring to accounts of improved attitudes towards African Americans after the war effort?), but this idea is very consistent with the tenets of the so-called "intergroup contact theory" proposed by Gordon Allport, and subsequently expanded on by scholars like Tom Pettigrew and Linda Tropp and others. The idea is basically that part of intolerance comes from a lack of contact with others, and that when we actually come together (especially when we are working as part of one group towards a common goal and where we share equal status) that can change negative stereotypes and attitudes for the better. There is evidence from people like Dora Capozza (see e.g., http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0170554) suggesting that contact can reduce more subtle forms of dehumanization. Emile Bruneau and I are now finding evidence that the same is often true for more overt forms of dehumanization, too.

At the same time: a few words of caution. People like Tamar Saguy and John Dixon have shown that sometimes contact between high-power and low-power groups can improve inter-group attitudes, leading the low-power group to expect structural changes (e.g., power-sharing) that is not necessarily forthcoming, and can create a backlash.

A:

I used Unity to start. First step was to look up Unity tutorials and follow them, creating simple games. From there I decided to make my own project with what I had learned. Every time I stumbled upon a problem I opened the browser and started googling.

I learned more by reading solutions to my problems online and after 14 months I had a game together! I worked 12 hours 6 days a week, so that made it come together a bit faster.


Q:

Hi Dr. Kteily,

I'm interested if you have any experience with/thoughts about the purpose and function of storytelling in regards to the restoration and rehumanization of disenfranchised individuals and groups? He's coming from a more anthropological point of view, but Michael Jackson's "The Politics of Storytelling" explores the importance of storytelling - from both ends - to human experience, and specifically its importance in maintaining a sense of both personal and societal agency in the face of a world that seems indifferent or actively hostile to one's existence.

Do you have any thoughts on how we - as both storytellers and spectators in the human arena, from stories as seemingly unimportant as our day-to-day conversations to those as culturally influencing as mass-distributed major-media productions - can work to use the stories we tell to effectively combat dehumanization? What can those who are not members of specific disenfranchised groups do to actively participate in the cultural storytelling process positively - beyond simply listening/spectating - without further dehumanizing these groups and individuals by drowning out their voices?

A:

Have you considered doing a 3D game? Unity makes this quite simple.


Q:

Hi! Thanks for the great question. I don't know that there's been a ton of work about the role of storytelling in the domain of rehumanization, but I think you'd find the following work by my colleague Emile Bruneau very interesting and it seems consistent with your account: (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0140838)

Interestingly, other work of Emile's suggests that perspective-giving is even more effective than perspective-taking for disempowered group members who don't feel heard: (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103112000297)

A:

Yes, but we kind of like 2D! Perhaps in the future.


Q:

Is there any research on strategies for the (subtly) dehumanized to effectively "push back" in hierarchical relationships? I ask because I recently ran a small graduate student workshop on strategies for taking care of one's mental health and being maximally productive. One of the topics was managing relationships with advisors and other faculty--i.e. strategies to make the relationship(s) more collaborative and less authoritarian over time.

I tried to keep it positive, but there was an underlying theme that the goal is to get faculty to remember that you are human (while still being productive and pushing yourself). Being treated like a work robot is a real issue that many graduate students face, sometimes to the point that they are treated as if though their having human issues or a personal life is a nuisance. The strategies I presented (e.g. being proactive/meeting regularly, being organized, developing strong personal/professional boundaries, etc.) were pulled from members of my department and my own personal experiences; I'm wondering if there's any research to back up those anecdotes.

A:

Perhaps 3D graphics games which are restricted to 2D plane? Like Smash Bros or many RTS games?


Q:

Thanks for the thoughtful question. I don't know of research on this specific question, but it seems like it's ripe for people to do work on. I would check out some work on the consequences of workplace dehumanization (see e.g., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4173804/ ; and for a different perspective, see the work of Ed Orehek: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1745691617691138)

With respect to practical advice for graduate students: It's interesting, but professors get very little training on how to be effective mentors. It's a trial-by-error enterprise, and I think it's more challenging than it might appear on the surface. I think this is sometimes compounded by the fact that faculty are often a self-selected group of hyper-motivated individuals who might remember (or misremember) having worked relentlessly in graduate school and expect the same of everyone around them (especially when they themselves are under significant pressure to amass a large body of work prior to being reviewed for tenure).

I bet that there is a high proportion of advisors who might be oblivious to the fact that they aren't doing a great job at making their students feel whole/human, even though they might be shocked at realizing that that's how they're coming off. The existence of that group (different from those who knowingly abuse their power) seems like it presents an opportunity to improve things.

This is made more difficult by power dynamics, but one thing I would recommend is that students have an honest and open conversation about expectations early on in an advising relationship. I think good mentorship requires open communication, and early. Both sides need to figure out whether it's a good fit— and on what terms— and if it isn't, it's better to lay that out on the table. It's hard/awkward to communicate, but I believe most faculty to be professional enough to accept and support a student who finds that their interests are no longer aligned with a particular project or feel like they'd be a better fit with a lab with a different culture or working style.

A:

Perhaps!


Q:

Are you aware of dunbar's number? Does it hold credence as to why people do this?

A:

how do you feel about lootboxes and microtransactions dominating video games in 2017? where will it take us in 2018?


Q:

I am aware of Dunbar's number, yes. I'm not sure that it explains why people dehumanize necessarily, but it may well be that cooperating across vast numbers of people (i.e., billions, rather than the 150-person tribes we were a part of for much of our evolutionary history) is more challenging for us. But that's not to say we can't accomplish it.

A:

Well, they are designed to milk money from customers. So the focus has been on how to get more money from players, instead of how to make the game better.

I don't like that. I don't like that time is spent on developing features to milk money from players, when all that time could have been spent on developing features that make the game better.

I feel like it's going all wrong here. In my ideal gaming industry world games would have a one-time price + for every big content update there would be an additional price. I feel this would keep the focus on making great games and enable developers to get paid for their effort.


Q:

Contracts fall into treating the other party as an adversary- that's why you have all the clauses against betrayal and we can see empirically that among those who don't follow this practice many get fleeced. It is thereby a hostile enviroment. The point here is on topic that you have to dehumanize and treat the other party as an adversary to protect yourself when dealing with random people you work with prior contact.

A:

Will you be making this game free and pay to win in the future? Those bloodsuckers make so much money.


Q:

I'm not sure that the statement that "backstabbing/betrayal can reap greater benefits than cooperation" is true in multi-shot transactions. Overcoming the prisoner's dilemma and achieving mutual cooperation can be incredibly valuable. Robert Axelrod's work on iterated prisoner's dilemma tournaments (fascinating, if you're not familiar with it) suggests that a more effective approach is a tit-for-tat strategy: orient towards cooperation (given its benefits) but be provokable— if someone consistently 'defects' (i.e., backstabs, cheats, etc.) then orient away from cooperation in turn. See also Adam Grant's book "Give and Take".

A:

No we will not :)


Q:

Hi Professor, I'm a cognitive science grad with substantial interest in this subject. One book I read while working on my thesis that I found to be enlightening was Lasana Harris' book Invisible Minds. I was curious if you were familiar with Lasana Harris' work and if you had any thoughts about it.

One thing I found particularly interesting was Harris' suggestion, as you've pointed to in some of your responses, that dehumanization when selectively employed can be beneficial to the dehumanizer. I'm wondering whether you think dehumanization, whether or not it's individually beneficial, is societally beneficial in any context and what makes dehumanization acceptable in that context?

A:

I have less than 20k in debt. You mind taking on that as well?


Q:

Hi, I am indeed aware of Lasana Harris' work in this area— his was some of the very first work to examine neural processes linked to dehumanization, an important step.

In my view, there are some limited contexts in which some forms of subtle dehumanization can be 'beneficial', or put another way, might contribute to prosocial ends. One example proposed by others is the surgeon working in an operating room. If the surgeon explicitly focuses on the patient's humanity (e.g., capacity to experience pain) during surgery, it might be that much more difficult for them to operate effectively. That said, I think that most forms of overt dehumanization (actively deeming another group as lower animals) have insidious consequences.

A:

Not right now, maybe later!


Q:

What can schools do to counteract online bullying?

A:

So I loved the first game and had you on my list of favourite indie devs. Now with todays release you guys are charging twice as much for the game on steam, and I have to buy it twice, instead of once with a key for any other device? It feels like a metaphorical slap in the face.


Q:

I would check out the amazing work of Betsy Levy Paluck on the topic of school bullying (albeit not online): https://www.princeton.edu/news/2016/01/04/students-influence-over-peers-reduce-school-bullying-30-percent

A:

Hi!

Unfortunately we cannot provide keys for other platforms. Additionally, we are forced to ask a lower price on mobile to sell units and stay on lists to stay alive and be able to continue developing games. It's just the way it is. Hope you understand.


Q:

How will the reproducibility crisis in your field play out?

A:

Not sure if you're still answering but what's different between the new game and Harbinger?

I bought Harbinger in 2015 and definitely got my money's worth from it. Keep up the good work!


Q:

My hope is that the current methodological reforms and the seriousness with which the field is taking them will continue to improve the robustness of psychological science. I think it's great that psychologists have been motivated to increase the field's rigor, and it's good to see that this awareness is spreading to several other disciplines, too.

A:

Here's what I posted in our forums:

Max 10 ships + 8 stations to command in Sector Siege versus 3 ships in Harbinger.

Marines added to ships.

Boarding feature added, both the player and the AI can board.

Capture points added, generating resources.

Old and new ships.

Turrets are mostly the same. Area of effect added.

Fog of war added.

Seamless saving and loading added, save and load at any time. Cross-platform save/load support.

Ability to capture all enemy units and stations added, and it's possible to start building them once you have one captured.

1 new race, the Guardians added.

All alien races may warp in to a fight and attack any other race. This means alien races will be fighting each other too.

Skirmish game mode with 2v2 added, you can play with an alien ally.

Star map is not randomized, but a lot of the elements inside a sector are randomized. Sector Siege is all about what happens inside a sector, and one sector play can easily take 30-60 min. A campaign has 25 sectors.

You can build up the Battlestation.

Defense missions added.

Skirmish also has defense mission and you can play against endless enemy waves trying to reach a high score.


Q:

Hello -

I'll try to be brief; do you believe it's possible to teach a social narrative in which people become a "society of kings" - all on the same team as one another?

Among friends many of us seem able to develop a non-tiered peer relationship where cool guys aren't a threat to other cool guys and among us form a miniature version of the Polynesian "big man" economy. Now that we have a global communications and memory network (the internet) do you believe such an economy of reputation can encompass a single team society of billions and promote an enumerable incentive to not dehumanize others?

(Also shout out to Arizona metal band Dehumanizer of whom this AMA reminded me)

A:

How do you guys get the word around about your game ? More importantly how do you take care of consumer satisfaction ?


Q:

Fascinating question. I think that's the goal. I also think it's a non-trivial (read: very very difficult) undertaking. Some work suggests that it's easier when your prime people to think that humanity has a common enemy. Like, if we were to be invaded by martians, it might be easier for us to band together. I'd like to think that we could 'trick' ourselves to band together towards something more productive (and in the case of my example, no less existential)— like, for example, ensuring that our planet will continue to be habitable long into the future.

A:

We mail a lot of places. Youtubers and press. It's really hard tough, you really need to have an interesting game to have a chance.

We have built our community over years and that's the best way to spread the word. We do it by reading what they write regarding our games and try to fulfill many of their wishes, this creates solid fans who are ready to help.


Q:

How does it mean to "dehumanize" someone, exactly? Is there a checklist of actions or traits you refer to in your work?

Do you have any insights or recommendations for leaders in work environments to help them "remember the human?" Maybe a book I can toss at people?

A:

Hell, I'm happy for you guys. good on you for pursuing your dreams and finding success.

Space Haven perked my interest. How management based would you say it will be? I have a penchant for tycoon games, but on mobile it's often just a case of build the next thing and wait. I want something more like theme hospital, with challenge.

Either way, I'm happy to support you, have a 4 hour flight later today so I'll buy battlevoid sector siege. Hope it's kind on my battery life!


Q:

I recommend that you pass any books out gently rather than tossing them, lest they perceive your delivery device to be at odds with your message ;) My colleague Adam Waytz is coming out with a book in 2018 called "The Power of Human" that I expect to speak very directly to some of the issues you mention (including managers).

What it means to dehumanize someone is a complex question subject to substantial informative debate. It depends also on what type of dehumanization you mean precisely (e.g,. are you overlooking someone's humanity subconsciously or are you actively likening someone to animals). I study mostly the latter type, and, for me, overt dehumanization implies actively ascribing a given target with animalistic traits like "savagery", "primitiveness", and/or a "lack of self-control". Usually, we see those who we actively dehumanize as beneath us, and outside the spectre of our moral concern. That is, those we don't give those we dehumanize the same moral consideration that we would others we consider peer humans.

A:

Hi!

Something a bit more towards Rimworld is what we're trying to achieve. A lot of focus on the characters, but also management. It's like taking a base building game but you get to move that base all the time :)


Q:

Have any sociologists looked into the role over-population might play? Not everyone enjoys being stacked in cramped spaces or living in communities with a high people per square mile density. The more people in the world and the less free space, the more I hope for calamities and disasters.

I didn't used to feel this way. There used to be more empty land, more green spaces between towns. Now housing and people are everywhere. When I was a kid I could ride my bicycle from one town to another thirty miles away, lots of farmland. Now forty years later, there's 100 houses on that same route when there used to be 10. I no longer get upset when I hear that hundreds or thousands of people died in some accident or disaster. Instead, I'm like good, hope those remaining quit breeding. I used to feel SAD when I heard about people dying! Their suffering mattered to me. Now I'm just like, oh well, there's already too many people.

A:

Fantastic. Well I loved rimworld so that definitely sounds enticing.

What would you say you are doing that will make me play it instead of Rimworld (if I'm honest I'm concerned a game of that type that is also available on mobile would lose depth and therefore longevity in its appeal).


Q:

Hi womenhaveovaries (I can't help but enjoy the irony of your username!).

Yes, the world is growing rapidly, and my guess is that population growth— combined with human migration resulting from war and the consequences of climate change— have heightened the stakes of intergroup dynamics. I hear what you mean when you say that life is getting tougher and more competitive, and I distinctly remember the feeling when I saw how hard it was to get a job for college graduates right around the financial crisis.

That said, human capacity for achieving incredible things through cooperation at large scale (think for example of the LIGO efforts with hundreds of scientists working across the world!) means that—leveraged wisely— our numbers can be a boon rather than a zero-sum proposition. It's still a big world out there, with enough space for all of us... and research shows that, at least on a national scale, immigration actually improves economic outcomes rather than hurting them (of course, this economic gain then needs to be distributed fairly via policy). When we dehumanize entire groups (like refugees and migrants) we give up the potential for mutual gain and help bring about tensions we could avoid.

Personally, when I'm feeling cynical about the world, I find it re-invigorating to watch BBC documentaries (Wild China was a fun one) about some of the incredible things humans have accomplished working together.

A:

We're developing Space Haven PC first. PC is the main focus and we will do everything in our power to bring it to mobile too. We will try our best to make the whole experience different enough compared to Rimworld to make it exciting. There's a lot of possibilities to do so since the setting is different. Rimworld is on a planet while Space Haven is set on space ships.

Remember, FTL is on mobile too :)


Q:

Hi Nour, thanks for doing this. This is especially timely given political developments in the US.

How can we make links between dehumanization in the workplace (private sector) and in government policies (public sector)? Is it expressed in similar ways? Do you counteract it the same way?

And are you more likely to find it in certain fields or positions? e.g. Is a CEO more or less likely to dehumanize? What about a President?

A:

Fair point, though I'd say FTL is very different from Rimworld and maybe more easily moved over.

Either way don't mean to give you a hard time, just intrigued about your thought process and intentions. Either way clicking buy on sector siege on playstore... now!


Q:

Great question! Distinguishing types of dehumanization is important, and different types are more likely to be operative in some contexts than others. Relative to the political and inter-ethnic domains— where overt/blatant forms of dehumanization (actively characterizing another group as 'animals') can be common (especially in the presence of conflict)— dehumanization in the workplace is likely to stake on more subtle forms. For example, a boss is more likely to 'overlook' the mind of an employee, or objectify them by seeing them as an instrumental means to an end. Sometimes when people subtly dehumanize, they don't even notice that they're doing it, which is less likely with blatant forms of dehumanization.

For those reasons, these types of dehumanization probably require different 'solutions' to counteract them. When you point out to a boss that they're overlooking the humanity of an employee, they might be horrified and seek to correct their behavior. That's less likely when someone consciously deems another group as animals. Then, you have to do more work to challenge the bases of their dehumanizing views (for example, by pointing out the hypocrisy in people's tendency to blame an entire group for the actions of a few of its individuals).

The last part of your question speaks to the role of power in dehumanization. This is a complex question, without one clear answer: there is some evidence, yes, that those who occupy positions of power are more likely to overlook and objectify the minds of others than vice-versa. And, to be sure, much classic dehumanization 'flowed down' the power hierarchy, with more powerful groups like colonizers dehumanizing their 'subjects'. But in recent work, we've been showing that, in the presence of active conflict (like war), even a lower power group can dehumanize its high-powered adversary (we think this is because when a group is on the receiving end of violent conflict and sustaining heavy losses, they're likely to see the other side as 'savage' animals without a heart).

A:

Thanks :) hope you like it!


Q:

Has wide spread dehumanization always been prevalent in human society or is it a relatively new thing, at least to this extent?

A:

Hi! I absolutely loved Battlevoid: Harbinger. When I first downloaded it from the Google Play store, I was amazed by how much time I spent on this game.

Question: If either you or your brother is married, what did it feel like answering your spouse's questions about work and the state of the company while you were at your lowest? Did you try to remain upbeat? Were you brutally honest?

Thanks for entertaining all of us with your creations! Going to download your newest game now.


Q:

Dehumanization is not a new phenomenon (it played an important role, for example, during colonization and slavery).. but in the past couple of years, the levels of its expression in public discourse in the U.S. have been higher than in the past 5-10 years.

A:

Thank you!

Well, I guess we had to say to our parents how much we were making. I found it funny and depressing at the same time. But when you give something your all and it doesn't end up well, you're going to be sad but also proud of yourself.

I would say to friends sometimes that things seem so hopeless, but you can only try try and try and hope it turns out ok.


Q:

i have a question, how is your name pronounced?

A:

How'd you get into programming? Any tips for a novice coder?


Q:

"Noor" (rhyming with lure).

A:

Online! Start with c# and Unity for example. Look at tutorials on Youtube and create something of your own with the help from those tutorials. You will find out how cool it is soon enough!

It just takes a lot of work and persistence, like learning to play a guitar.


Q:

Your title nonchalantly assumes a "recent advance in dehumanization". What evidence supports this? (Compared to 10, 20, 50 years ago)

A:

Hey if I'm not too late, I've been following you guys bc I liked the past battle void game, but haven't looked at the details of sector siege. Can you tell me what differences there are between games and why should I buy this new one?

Thanks, keep up the great work


Q:

Copying from my response to Johndelfino below:

"I should have been clearer. I meant recent rise in so far as comparing the past one-two years to the five-ten preceding them. And to be even more specific: I suspect that this has more to do with the willingness to express dehumanization openly than the likelihood of holding dehumanizing beliefs internally. You're right that human history is replete with examples of dehumanization such as slavery and genocide (e.g,. Rwanda, WW2)."

A:

Hello! In short Sector Siege is much more of a light starcraft type of game compared to Harbinger. Here is a list of differences:

Max 10 ships + 8 stations to command in Sector Siege versus 3 ships in Harbinger.

Marines added to ships.

Boarding feature added, both the player and the AI can board.

Capture points added, generating resources.

Old and new ships.

Turrets are mostly the same. Area of effect added.

Fog of war added.

Seamless saving and loading added, save and load at any time. Cross-platform save/load support.

Ability to capture all enemy units and stations added, and it's possible to start building them once you have one captured.

1 new race, the Guardians added.

All alien races may warp in to a fight and attack any other race. This means alien races will be fighting each other too.

Skirmish game mode with 2v2 added, you can play with an alien ally.

Star map is not randomized, but a lot of the elements inside a sector are randomized. Sector Siege is all about what happens inside a sector, and one sector play can easily take 30-60 min. A campaign has 25 sectors.

You can build up the Battlestation.

Defense missions added.

Skirmish also has defense mission and you can play against endless enemy waves trying to reach a high score.


Q:

How drastic of a change do you think will be needed to make to counteract dehumanization? Will it be subtle changes or a sort of a "system overhaul"?

A:

The system definitely matters, but beyond that social norms are also hugely impactful (as the work of recent MacArthur award recipient Betsy Levy Paluck has shown in the domain of school bullying and prejudice against LGBTQ communities). For example, I suspect (although I don't myself have data on this) that the mass protests that came out in support of the Muslim communities after the ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries was first implemented did a great deal to make the community feel humanized. Somewhat consistent with this: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/2/15/14625018/pew-survey-muslims-atheists-religion


Q:

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve encountered/realized while studying the recent rise in dehumanization?

A:

Two things, one negative and one positive:

  1. I was pretty amazed at the levels of blatant dehumanization we've been observing, both generally, and especially in Eastern Europe (Hungary, Czech Republic). I suspected we'd find some overt dehumanization, but have been pretty shocked at its extent.

  2. Some of the work I'm most excited about is a recent paper led by my colleague Emile Bruneau (as well as Emily Falk). We've found that simply having White Americans first reflect on how responsible they are for the acts of violence of specific group members (e.g., Dylann Roof's killing in Charleston in 2015) is able to reduce the tendency to blame all Muslims for the acts of groups like ISIS: we don't think of ourselves as responsible for extremists within our groups, and when we're reminded of that, we become less likely to blame all outgroups for acts by some of their members. It turns out that this can itself reduce dehumanization, too. Finding such a short & simple intervention that can reduce intergroup hostility was very gratifying.


Q:

Why are all the entrances to Kellogg except that really annoying back entrance closed currently?

A:

good question! let me know if you find out :-)


Q:

Here's my question..thinking within the context of dehumanization of course. Do you think that policing in the U.S as it relates to members of minority communities...contributes to dehumanization in our society today?

2 reasons I ask...just as anything else the more something is shown in the media the more "normal" it seems to become regardless of morality. We constantly see police kill unarmed black and brown people and we see the same song and dance..news coverage...officer gets off people are mad...Repeat.

In my opinion this works as a former of propaganda as an agent to reinforce the thought that black and brown lives are not as valuable as others...

Taking into account that the US is known as a global leader that other countries look to as an example....do you feel that this issue...if continued will lead to normaliziation of dehumanization in other regions?

Sorry if my question isn't clear....it sounded wayyy better in my head

A:

I'm actually doing some work to examine this right now. I do think that individuals look to their social context (including the media) for an understanding of how they are seen in society. And the message that the lives of one's group aren't equally valuable can have detrimental effects, including making individuals themselves likely to dehumanize the "offending" outgroups. Will hopefully have more on this within this specific context in due course.