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Demonizing Outsiders


Explanations > Groups > Demonizing Outsiders

Description | Discussion | See also



Groups often frame outsiders in a negative light, seeing them as less intelligent, less able and even bad or evil in some way. This is typically done when other groups are viewed as being competitors of some kind.

The criticism may just be of other groups. It may also be of the typical person in the other groups and perhaps even of specific key people within their organization.

The trivialization and demonizing of others is often done in a ritualistic way, using the same words and following established and repeating patterns and sequences. It may include name-calling and implications of lower intelligence or other ability. Personal characteristics get simplified and stereotyped. Comparative words may well be used, framing others as less than those in one's own group.


A football team has a rousing team-room song that frames other teams as weak, stupid and incapable. A new verse is added for each new competitor.

People in a business talk in disparaging terms about their competitors, with discussion about the inferiority of their products, the weakness of strategy and the general poorer quality of their employees.

People in a religious group frame other religions as anything from misguided to corrupted and evil.


Perception is largely driven by contrast and we largely evaluate ourselves and determine our sense of identity by comparing ourselves with others. There are two ways of doing this: making ourselves appear superior or making the others appear inferior. Demonizing others uses the latter method.

In separating ourselves from others we polarize, making both us and them more extreme. This creates space between us, making us distinctively different. When people are completely different from us it is easy to objectify them, converting them into 'things' that can be treated in inhuman ways.

We do this both as individuals and also as groups. Within a group this adds the social confirmation and power of agreement by others. Not only do we think ourselves superior, but others tell us we are superior too. This is a significant benefit of groups and is a key reason why we attach our identities to the identity of the group.

Groups tend to compete or assert superiority on different bases. While some will assume they are the best at the same thing, such as superior competence or global brand, others know they cannot compete on these terms and so select other criteria by which they can feel superior. Hence social and moral dimensions may well appear, for example where a more successful competitor is framed as being arrogant and unpleasant.

When others are demonized they may be feared, causing greater unity within the group. It also may be used to legitimize questionable competing tactics. If the other side is evil and bad then this justifies extreme measure to be taken against them.

People in groups, teams and organizations may be tempted to leave and join competitors. This is particularly common in business where they may get more money, greater status and better job prospects. Demonizing other groups acts as a dissuasive warning, both that the other person's grass is not greener and that if they leave for the competitor they will be personally demonized by their former friends and colleagues.

See also

Conversion techniques, Stereotypes, Polarization


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