Can ‘Unintentional Race Bias’ Be Treated?

Elizabeth Phelps (Photo: NYU via Nature)

A research review from neuroscientists is further supporting the theory that racism — at least a component of it — is innate and therefore could be treated.

Neuroscientist Elizabeth Phelps from New York University and her colleagues evaluated 17 different brain studies and expounded upon research she published more than a decade ago that first showed race preferences could be linked to brain activity. Phelps, who was interviewed by the journal Nature, explained that the area of the brain that detects race also is closely tied to an emotional response. She explains that even in people who have the correct intentions –are “motivated to be non-prejudiced” — a part of the brain picks up on unintentional racist responses while another part of the brain regulates these responses as you choose not to act upon them.

For example, she said:

Most white Americans we studied show an implicit preference for their own group. They don’t have bad intentions, but because they’ve associated black people with, say, criminality so many times, their decisions are infused with that association, whether or not they believe it’s accurate. There’s evidence of unintentional race bias at every stage of the legal process. Despite the fact that it aims to be egalitarian, sentencing is vastly different for African Americans. The bias is also there in employment.

Phelps said that those who try to suppress  — however consciously or unconsciously — unintentional racist tendencies show more activity in the area of the brain that is controlling these responses, compared to those who are blatantly and admittedly racist.

The study’s abstract explains this as a “network of interacting brain regions” involved in the “unintentional, implicit expression of racial attitudes and its control.”

Believing that the “neural circuitry of race, emotion and decision-making” overlaps, the researchers in the study state further studies could evaluate how to “recognize and respond to variations in race and its influence on unintended race-based attitudes and decisions.” Earlier this year, for example, a study by another group found that giving test subjects a blood-pressure lowering drug reduced subconscious racism.

According to The Australian, neuroscientist Anthony Harris with Sydney University agreed that testing how to “treat” inherent racism was next up for neurological studies. He acknowledged that currently it is “very difficult to tease out the cultural influence on our biological processes.”

(H/T: Daily Mail)

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