Monday, March 12, 2012
Pill for racism discovered - Can the blood pressure pill propranolol cure racism?
A new study from Oxford University has found that a commonly used blood pressure medication – propranolol – seems to reduce subconscious racist behaviour.
The study – which involved only 36 white student volunteers – found that the drug somehow reduces fear that is involved in some forms of racial prejudice, according to one of its authors Sylvia Terbeck, a PhD student in the experimental psychology, philosophy and neuroscience department at Oxford.
Terbeck said she wanted to look more closely at the role fear might play in prejudice in an interview with the Star.
Previous studies have found that a region in the brain known as the amygdala – which has a role in the emotion fear – becomes activated when white people are shown black faces. And many believe fear plays a role in prejudice.
The drug propranolol is believed to block some brain chemicals in this region of the brain, as well as the activation of the autonomic nervous system, which controls key functions of the body, including heart rate and blood pressure.
The study, which was published in the journal Psychopharmacology, divided up the 36 volunteers into two groups. One got a placebo. The other got the blood pressure medication.
Then both groups were given the Implicit Association Test which was developed by Harvard University. The test, designed to measure implicit racial prejudice, asks people to make associations between good and bad words, and black and white faces on the computer.
“What usually happens,” said Terbeck, “is that people seem to favour white over black faces. That means they find it easier to associate the positive words with white faces as compared to black faces. And they find it easier to associate negative words with black faces compared to white faces.”
The study found that 100 per cent of the placebo group ended up being implicitly racially prejudiced in some way, Terbeck said.
But in the group that took the medication only one-third of the group had a score at all and it was marginal. The other two-thirds of the group showed no prejudice whatsoever and didn’t register any score on the IAT.
Concludes Terbeck: “I think that it’s the first step to show or to understand the neurobiology of racial prejudice and to say that probably fear plays a role in some forms of racial prejudice.”
Terbeck rejects the criticism that the study sample is too small to draw any conclusions, saying that most pharmacological studies have a small sample.
And while she doesn’t envision a time when everyone in the world is taking the blood pressure medication to end prejudice, she believes the study will prompt more research and better understanding of how implicit racism and prejudice occur.
This is only the beginning of research in this area, she said. Follow up work is needed, she emphasized. “Like any other study, you make valid suggestions and you need to do more research,” she said.
To that end, she’s already working on another study on how this drug might make physical changes to the brain’s chemistry that could reduce implicit racism.
Let's not forget this video...Unrelated to the above news story but funny as hell!