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Attitudes toward governmental use of torture: The impact of mortality salience and humanization

Soumya Madabhushi, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Torture is prevalent in many modern societies, democratic and otherwise. It is important therefore to understand public opinion regarding the use of torture and the social-psychological processes underlying such opinions. Terror Management Theory posits that when individuals are reminded of their own mortality they retaliate, sometimes violently, against those seen as a threat to their cultural worldview or way of life. Dehumanization is posited to be a psychological mechanism that reduces the stress associated with causing harm, making it easier to support harm-doing. The purpose of this study is to examine the effect of mortality salience and the impact of humanizing the victim on attitudes toward use of torture. ^ Study participants were first year college students from a large mid-western university. The study used a 2x2 post-test experimental design adapted from the design used by the proponents of Terror Management Theory. A series of ANOVAs and regression analyses were performed to examine the relationship between attitudes toward use of torture and (a) mortality salience and (b) humanization of a victim. Analyses were also conducted to examine the relationship between attitudes toward use of torture and other demographic variables such as age, gender, years of education, race, religion and political orientation. ^ Results did not show any significant effects for mortality salience or for humanization of the victim. Descriptive statistics suggested that respondents were more certain of what constitutes torture than of whether its use is legitimate, refraining from taking a stand for or against it. Furthermore, significant correlations indicate that as the likelihood of perceiving certain interrogational techniques as "torture" increases, the favorability for the use of such techniques decreases. Additionally, results indicated that those with a more liberal political orientation had less favorable views toward use of torture by their government and that women tended to have less favorable views than men. The implications and limitations of this study, as well as directions for future research, are discussed.^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Psychology, Counseling

Recommended Citation

Madabhushi, Soumya, "Attitudes toward governmental use of torture: The impact of mortality salience and humanization" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3466480.