“[Harm-Related]Concept Creep”- Nick Haslam (2016); Nick Haslam et al (2020)

Nick Haslam is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Melbourne. You can read his profile here. [1] The following two papers by Haslam (2016) and Haslam et al (2020), respectively, are not about EDI. But they are about the expansion of meaning of harm-related concepts, some of which, e.g. trauma and prejudice, are commonly deployed in EDI discourse.

  1. In 2016, Haslam introduces “Concept Creep: Psychology’s Expanding Concepts of Harm and Pathology,”[2] PDF here (via Google Scholar).


Many of psychology’s concepts have undergone semantic shifts in recent years. These conceptual changes follow a consistent trend. Concepts that refer to the negative aspects of human experience and behavior have expanded their meanings so that they now encompass a much broader range of phenomena than before. This expansion takes “horizontal” and “vertical” forms: concepts extend outward to capture qualitatively new phenomena and downward to capture quantitatively less extreme phenomena. The concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, addiction, and prejudice are examined to illustrate these historical changes. In each case, the concept’s boundary has stretched and its meaning has dilated. A variety of explanations for this pattern of “concept creep” are considered and its implications are explored. I contend that the expansion primarily reflects an ever- increasing sensitivity to harm, reflecting a liberal moral agenda. Its implications are ambivalent, however. Although conceptual change is inevitable and often well motivated, concept creep runs the risk of pathologizing everyday experience and encouraging a sense of virtuous but impotent victimhood.

2. In 2020, Haslam et al publish, “Harm Inflation: Making Sense of Concept Creep,”[3] PDF here (via Google Scholar).


“Concept creep” is the gradual semantic expansion of harm-related concepts such as bullying, mental disorder, prejudice, and trauma. This review presents a synopsis of relevant theoretical advances and empirical research findings on the phenomenon. It addresses three fundamental questions. First, it clarifies the characterisation of concept creep by refining its theoretical and historical dimensions and presenting studies investigating the change in harm-related concepts using computational linguistics. Second, it examines factors that have caused concept creep, including cultural shifts in sensitivity to harm, societal changes in the prevalence of harm, and intentional meaning changes engineered for political ends. Third, the paper develops an account of the consequences of concept creep, including social conflict, political polarisation, speech restrictions, victim identities, and progressive social change. This extended analysis of concept creep helps to understand its mixed implications and sets a multi-pronged agenda for future research on the topic.


[1] Nick Haslam, Professor, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, University ersatz of Melbourne, https://findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/profile/6837-nicholas-haslam, accessed October 15, 2022.

[2]Haslam, Nick. “Concept creep: Psychology’s expanding concepts of harm and pathology.” Psychological Inquiry 27.1 (2016): 1-17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1047840X.2016.1082418, accessed October 15, 2022.

[3]Haslam, Nick, et al. “Harm inflation: Making sense of concept creep.” European Review of Social Psychology 31.1 (2020): 254-286. https://doi.org/10.1080/10463283.2020.1796080, accessed October 15, 2022.


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