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Can a Blood Pressure Pill Also Lower Racist Tendencies?


"...our unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs..."

A drug that helps lower blood pressure in patients with heart disease was also recently shown in a study of a small sample size to reduce subconscious racism, according to the Telegraph.

Oxford University researchers conducted the study on 36 white students, giving half a dose of the beta-blocking drug propranolol and half a placebo. What they found was that those who took the drug scored lower on a test designed to detect subconscious racism. Here's how the propranolol works:

Propranolol is most often used to reduce high blood pressure by lowering the heart rate, as well as angina and irregular heartbeat. It is also used to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety, and control migraine.

It is thought to work by blocking activation of the peripheral 'autonomic' nervous system, and in areas of the brain involved with formulating emotional responses, including fear, called the amygdalae.

The researchers believe propranolol reduces racial bias because such subconscious thoughts are triggered by that autonomic nervous system.

The Telegraph reports the study's lead author Sylvia Terbeck as saying these results give researchers insight into the "implicit" bias of individuals, even those who may sincerely believe in equality. Julian Savulescu, co-author of the study, said the pill should not be considered a "cure to racism", but believes understanding the "moral side effects" of drugs is important:

"Such research raises the tantalising possibility that our unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs, a possibility that requires careful ethical analysis," [Savulescu said.]

Still, others say we need to remain skeptical of this drug's influence on racism:

Dr. Chris Chambers, from Cardiff University's School of Psychology, said the results should be treated with "extreme caution".

He said: "We don't know whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally. And we can't rule out the possibility that the effects were due to the drug incidentally reducing heart rate.

"So although interesting, in my view these preliminary results are a long way from suggesting that propranolol specifically influences racial attitudes."

The test study participants took was the Implicit Association Test, which has users sort words as well as people's faces into certain categories to measure "subtle and spontaneous biased behaviour."

[H/T New York Daily News]

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