Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Researchers test racism pill
CAN a pill stamp out racism? Researchers in the United Kingdom appear to think so.
A newly released report from the department of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford looked into the idea racism is strongly connected to innate human fears.
The leap between taking a pill and ending racist behaviour may not be quite as remarkable as many may initially think.
"It was really logical," said Sylvia Terbeck, of Oxford, who was the lead researcher in the study. "Propranolol reduces blood pressure, but we also know it works an area of the brain called the amygdala which is responsible for emotions and fear. That's why people not only use it for heart conditions they also use it for anxiety and performance anxiety."
Because some forms of subconscious racism are driven by fear, the idea of taking a pill to reduce that fear made sense. To test the theory, Terbeck found 36 test subjects who were then asked to complete two different tests.
"I gave half the people a placebo," said Terbeck. "I gave half the people the Propranolol and then I did two tests. One was just a questionnaire where I asked 'Do you like black people?', 'Do you like white people?'
"And then I did the Implicit Association Test -- a computer test where people see pictures of white and black faces and good and bad words and you have to categorize the good words and the faces into categories. Usually white people find it's easier to associate the white faces with good words rather than the black faces with good words."
But that wasn't the case after people had taken the drug.
In the written quiz, the drugs had no effect, but in the second, the Implicit Association Test, the results were remarkable. All of those who had taken the placebo still showed some form of fear toward the black faces, while in the group that had taken Propranolol, one-third registered minimal amounts of fear and two-thirds had none at all.
-- Postmedia News
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2012 J2