Foetus or child? Abortion discourse and attributions of humanness

Małgorzata Mikołajczak, Michał Bilewicz
British Journal of Social Psychology 2015, 54 (3): 500-18
Due to moral, religious, and cultural sensibilities, the topic of abortion still gives rise to controversy. The ongoing public debate has become visibly polarized with the usage of the pro-life versus pro-choice rhetoric. The aim of the current research was to investigate whether the language used in abortion discourse can affect people's attitudes by changing their attributions of humanity to unborn. Across three experimental studies we showed that participants who read about a 'foetus', compared to a 'child' declared higher support for elective abortion (Study 1; N = 108), this effect can be explained by greater humanness, as reflected in human nature traits, attributed to the child (vs. the foetus; Study 2; N = 121). The effect is mediated uniquely by attribution of human nature, but not by human uniqueness traits (Study 3; N = 120). These findings serve as a starting point for discussion of the role of language in shaping attitudes on abortion and other morally ambiguous issues.

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