Adam Waytz discusses three concerns about love


By Song My Hoang

Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management Adam Waytz presented a lecture entitled, “Three Concerns About Love” on Jan. 30.

His presentation documented the drawbacks of three phenomena of love: social connection enables dehumanization; in-group members recognize the value of love within the in-group, but underestimate the value of love within the competitive out-group; and affiliation promotes the value of loyalty, which prevent individuals from reporting unethical behavior.

Waytz explained that the core of dehumanization lies in the failure to consider another person as having a full mental state. Waytz and his colleagues were interested in exploring subtle types of dehumanization that occur on a daily basis.

Waytz and his colleagues explicitly investigated this connection by inducing experiences of social connection in some individuals, but not in others. The social connection group was asked to write about a family member or close friend, while the control group was asked to write about a distant acquaintance.

The participants were asked to rate how much they attribute certain mental states to the average drug addict, disabled person or rich individual. Questions ranged from, “Does a drug addict engage in a great deal of thought?” to “Does a rich person experience pain and pleasure?”

In a more blunt manipulation of dehumanization, participants were asked to agree or disagree with statements such as, “Some people have to be treated roughly because they lack feelings that can be hurt.”

Participants who reflected on their loving relationships were less likely to endorse the idea that the other social groups have the same mental capacity.

Waytz and his colleagues wanted to observe the downstream consequence of dehumanization, which is the willingness to harm others. Participants completed the study in a room with a close friend or with a complete stranger.

Participants were informed about eleven individuals suspected to be involved in the 9/11 attacks, who are currently held at Guantanamo Bay as detainees. They measured dehumanization in the same manner as the previous study, but specified the subject to these detainees.

They measured the willingness to harm by asking participants questions such as, “Is waterboarding an acceptable form of torture?”

The social connection group proved to have a higher tendency to support these acts of torture, which suggested that dehumanization mediated the willingness to harm.

“When you give someone your full attention, you consider them as fully human. Anybody outside of your immediate circle might be considered less than human,” commented Waytz.

He continued, “Overall, we wanted to show the idea that connection to one is at the expense of another.”

Waytz and his colleagues observed similar findings in the role of social connection in the context of intergroup conflicts. Intergroup conflicts are largely driven by two motives: in-group love and out-group hatred.

They investigated intergroup conflicts by studying the ongoing conflicts between Republicans and Democrats and Israelis and Palestinians.

All four groups did not differ in any of the findings. “Individuals perceived that members of their own group were motivated by love. However, they viewed members of the competitive outgroup as driven more by hate,” elucidated Waytz.

Waytz explained that individuals believe their own group is motivated by love because it creates an honorable reason to be involved in the conflict. Ingroup members do not want to believe they are capable of hatred and are motivated to see the other side as less loving people.

“I think there is a more interesting mechanism at work, though. In-group members often don’t see acts of love committed by the out-group. The only time these groups see each other is through their engagement in the conflict,” commented Waytz.

Individuals are perceptually aware of love within their group because they are constantly affiliated with their loved ones.  Waytz continued, “Individuals rarely see love when it is being committed by the other side, even though the other group is also engaged in love to the same degree.”

Waytz and his colleagues also observed the role of social connection in terms of whistleblowing. This often constitutes a conflict between the competing moral concerns of loyalty and fairness.

“You can’t have nepotism of your own and simultaneously be fair to everybody. Whistle-blowing brings these two foundations into conflict,” commented Waytz.

Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that determined how much they valued fairness and loyalty.  Participants were given a whistle-blowing scenario where they had to state whether they would report a family member, friend, acquaintance, or stranger’s involvement in any form of misconduct.

Whistle-blowing increased as social distance increased. Individuals were more likely to report misconduct if they placed a higher priority on fairness.

Waytz concluded, “We need to be aware about these three concerns about love. Perhaps the big question is: is love the best generator of our moral code?”



Leave a Reply