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Heart disease drug found to reduce racist attitudes

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March 15, 2012

The beta-blocking medication propanol could also block subconscious racist attitudes.

The beta-blocking medication propanol could also block subconscious racist attitudes.

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Although racism is widely believed to be a learned behavior, findings from an Oxford University team suggest that taking a heart disease medication may also help mute subconscious racist attitudes in individuals. Researchers gave the drug propranolol to 18 subjects, and placebos to a control group of the same size. Those that received the drug scored markedly lower on a standard test that measures subconscious racial bias. Does this mean we could one day see a pill to counter racist tendencies?

Propranolol was developed in the 1960s and was the first successful beta blocker developed. It is used to treat hypertension, anxiety and panic, with performers often using it to prevent stage fright. It is also being investigated as a potential treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The drug inhibits the amygdala, which is a region of the brain involved in processing emotion, including fear.

The Oxford University study saw participants undertaking a standard test for testing subconscious racial attitudes called a “racial Implicit Association Test” (IAT). One to two hours after receiving the drug or a placebo, the participants were asked to categorize positive and negative words, and pictures of black and white individuals, on a computer.

While the propranolol group scored significantly lower on the test into subconscious racial bias, there was no significant difference in the subjects' explicit (conscious) attitudes towards other races. There was also no difference in religious and sexual prejudice, or prejudice against drug addicts.

"Our results offer new evidence about the processes in the brain that shape implicit racial bias. Implicit racial bias can occur even in people with a sincere belief in equality," said lead author and Oxford experimental psychologist Sylvia Terbeck. "Many people with medical conditions are probably already on drugs which affect subconscious bias and more research is needed into how drugs which affect our nervous system affect our moral attitudes and practices."

The research team cautioned that the notion that unconscious racial attitudes could be modified using drugs would require careful ethical analysis.

"Biological research aiming to make people morally better has a dark history. And propranolol is not a pill to cure racism. But given that many people are already using drugs like propranolol which have 'moral' side effects, we at least need to better understand what these effects are," said Professor Julian Savulescu of Oxford University’s Faculty of Philosophy, a study co-author.

Savulescu is one of a number of researchers at Oxford and elsewhere who have been working to bring attention to the potential for "Enhancing Human Capacities" through medicine, which is also the title of a book released last year, which Savulescu co-edited.

The results of the team's study are found in the journal Psychopharmacology.

Source: Oxford University

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
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13 Comments

This is just wrong... If u need to take a pill to respect other people then ur just a bigger racist than the average person. "im just gonna take this pill, and then il respect you for who you are"... man...

Joakim
16th March, 2012 @ 06:43 am PDT

I 140% agree with the comment above

Adrian Calderon
16th March, 2012 @ 07:08 am PDT

Can we feed some to Sarkozy without him noticing?

@Joakim - fully agree...

agulesin
16th March, 2012 @ 07:12 am PDT

perhaps it just lowers one's anxiety

so other anxiety lowering drugs should have the same effect

grouvhy
16th March, 2012 @ 07:35 am PDT

There is nothing to be afraid of, I'm here to protect you.

Signed,

Your Master

Utter lunacy. I would rather die than take this crap.

Hmmm...
16th March, 2012 @ 08:15 am PDT

hey - The cure for facism

CarlosBandido
16th March, 2012 @ 08:38 am PDT

I strongly doubt that this drug specifically sedates subconscious racist sentiment, more likely it simply meters aggression and, as the article states, fear - as these are the principle emotions driving any prejudice. So maybe it has a similar affect on homophobia too?

If the effects are really so profound in reducing aggression, and thus prejudice, then perhaps perpertrators of hate crimes should be medicated with it!

PeetEngineer
16th March, 2012 @ 09:12 am PDT

One thing they failed to mention is that its a beta blocker as well. I use to use it for cluster headaches. When you first start taking it it really is hard to concentrate and takes about a week or two before that side effect is completely gone. So I can see it doing this during the first few days of taking it but after that your back to being your nasty old racist self.

Bruce Bell
16th March, 2012 @ 09:25 am PDT

Our psychologist, Dr Terbeck, ducked out of the tough program, biology, for the easy one - psychology. Genes are predisposed towards traits that are beneficial as well as reinforcing desirable traits in mating behavior. Beneficial overrides racist, gene replication, bias in humans. Since both male and females must exhibit these traits, it's not gender-biased. To say a pill affects morality, yet has no affect on religious, sexual, or abuse morality makes this study a joke. Racism is inherent in biology, in genetics. Go to any Asian country, many that do not have the Western guilt or PC, as a white person and you'll be a "victim" of racism. Racism plays out in the selfish replication of the genome and its immortality, but to label racism as morality when it is merely a socially undesirable trait, which then somehow makes it morality, is dead wrong and biologically igorant and perverted. It's too bad PhDs can't get revoked for bogus scientific practice by those with borderline fine arts degrees.

solutions4circuits
16th March, 2012 @ 10:46 am PDT

I lot of you folks do not seem to have a clue as to what the implicit preference test measures. It is NOT a measurement of racist attitudes, it measures implicit preference. It is perfectly possible to lack racist attitudes and still have racist preferences and visa-versa. The measure is physiological not attitudinal. I am not going to bother rehashing how it works, read about it. https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/background/faqs.html

Page Schorer
16th March, 2012 @ 01:54 pm PDT

This study reflects the very things psychologists should know about, namely innumeracy and individual bias.

The chance of this finding being a random effect is incredibly high and because the finding is so controversial, everyone seems to accept what is essentially this low quality research.

I like reading Gizmag but the lack of critical appraisal is a big disappointment.

Drsoar
16th March, 2012 @ 02:22 pm PDT

hmm... you are just a fellow HUMAN to me, no drugs needed

Bill Bennett
16th March, 2012 @ 08:56 pm PDT

I'm reading Bob Altemeyer's "The Authoritarians" at the moment - for leisure, believe it or not. I hope I've understood his book correctly. He is talking about reactions like racism, bigotry, homophobia and misogynism as being self-righteousness in authoritarian followers triggered into action by fear (real or percieved). So reducing anxiety (fear) would reduce the reactions (racism).

Bob Altemeyer is a retired Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba. The Authoritarians of available as a free PDF at: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

lukerevolution
18th March, 2012 @ 06:32 pm PDT
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