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The Cure for Racism

By on August 6, 2013
Propranolol_80mg

There is a buzz among British research scientists and now this side of the pond as a small study may have found a cure for racism in the form of a beta-blocker.

Lead author Sylvia Terbeck, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University  in England, and colleagues gave 18 people the drug propranolol and 18 people a  placebo.  Specifically, the medication in question is used to treat heart disease. And now through this small study, it may also reduce a  person’s subconscious racial bias.

The study published in Psychopharmacology found the propranolol group scored  significantly lower on the Implicit Attitude Test into subconscious racial bias  — a standard test for testing subconscious racial attitudes. Propranolol blocks activation in the peripheral “autonomic” nervous system  and in the area of the brain implicated in fear or emotional responses, Terbeck  said.

The researchers said they think propranolol reduced implicit racial basis  because such bias is based on automatic, non-conscious fear responses, which  propranolol blocks, Terbeck explained. If this is even somewhat true, there may be an increased effort to study the impact of certain medications on blocking racism, maybe even other “isms” as well. Can you imagine a world where racism was reduced or simply cured altogether? This also provides some merit that racism may be a mental health issue, a disease with clear treatment pattern. But all of this is far too premature.

Study co-author Julian Savulescu said this research raises the tantalizing  possibility that unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs, a  possibility that requires careful ethical analysis.

“Biological research aiming to make people morally better has a dark  history,” Savulescu said in a statement. “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.”

The study was published in Psychopharmacology.

 

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