Study Demonstrates That Racial Bias Is Reflected in Neural Activity

drawing-of-the-brainA new study by researchers at the University of Geneva and New York University shows that racism impacts activity in the brain. Participants in the study were shown faces of White and Black people while researchers monitored activity in the area of the brain that is involved in perception. Subjects were later asked to take a survey which measured their level of subtle racial bias.

For subjects who tested high on racial bias, researchers could determine with high accuracy the race of the person in the photograph simply from the activity in the brain of the test subject. The authors of the study conclude that people with a high degree of racial bias actually perceive Black and White faces differently on the neural level.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, the Seaver Foundation, and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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  1. This research reminds me of the old ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate. It is a biological truism that sensory stimuli affect and change brain cells’ structure, because of the plasticity of the brain.

    That being said, I am not surprised that “people with a high degree of racial bias perceive black and white faces differently on the neural level.”

    But there is a sting in the tail, because one could argue that if racial bias can be encoded in the brain, then, there must be ‘racial prejudice genes’, as well.

    And if so, racist can justify their racism not as the product of something that is learned, and changeable; but as something that is genetically determined, and unchangeable.

    Not a comforting thought!

  2. I don’t understand the article to say that racism is encoded in the brain. I understand it to say that racist attitudes and feelings create changes in the brain. The study summary states “that racism impacts activity in the brain” or the neural system This may be similar to the fact that stress can engender changes in other bodily systems.

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