Concept Creep: The Psychology of Harm Inflation

Abstract: In this talk I will discuss a program of research on 'concept creep', the tendency for harm-related concepts to broaden their meanings over time. I will illustrate the phenomenon with examples drawn from developmental, clinical, and social psychology, and offer a provisional theory of how and why it has occurred. I will then present studies that 1) use the tools of computational linguistics to document concept creep, 2) examine individual differences in the breadth of harm-related concepts, and 3) explore the social and psychological consequences of concept creep. I will end with some thoughts on the cultural significance of concept creep.

Bio: Nick Haslam is Professor of Psychology at the University of Melbourne. He received his PhD in social and clinical psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and taught at the New School for Social Research in New York before returning to Australia in 2002. Nick’s research interests include psychiatric classification, dehumanization, stigma and personality, and he has published extensively on these topics. He also writes frequently for popular outlets. Nick has served as Head of the School of Psychological Sciences and Pro-Vice Chancellor (Graduate) at the University of Melbourne, as President of the Australasian Society of Social Psychologists, and as member of the Australian Research Council's College of Experts. He currently co-directs his university's PhD program in mental health.