July 02, 2009

Subconscious racism proved

No racial bias? Really? A brain scan may give you away.

By Shara YurkiewiczIn this study, from Peking University in Beijing, Chinese and Caucasian university participants watched video clips showing faces of Chinese and Caucasian models with neutral expressions receiving either a painful (needle penetration) or non-painful (Q-tip touch) stimulation on the cheek.

The participants were then asked to rate the amount of pain the model felt, as well as their own level of discomfort while watching the jabs.

Race had no effect on the survey responses by either Chinese or Caucasian observers. But the same was not true in their brains.

While participants watched the videos, researchers used functional MRI to scan what was going on inside their heads. The scans revealed increased activation in the brain regions that mediate the empathic neural response. But when the painful simulations were applied to subjects who shared a race with observers, the neural responses increased significantly more than when the ones being stuck with needles were of the other racial group.

The findings suggest that bias against those from other groups may exist at a fundamental level in the human mind, despite what self-reports reveal.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Meyer's Unconscious Racism? and Anti-Indian Racism Explained.


dmarks said...

On the other hand, if the only evidence of a racial bias is hidden brain waves, is it really "real" racial bias?

Rob said...

Brain waves were the only evidence in this experiment. The question is how these electrical impulses cause behavior to change in real-world situations.

The point is that now we have physical evidence of how and why prejudice happens. The next thing to investigate is how this phenomenon manifests itself.