Most white Americans are doing a good job telling pollsters what they think is politically correct when it comes to reporting their approval of interracial relationships. But a brain test indicates an unconscious disgust in some respondents.
What’s new? People say one thing and think another, and Allison Skinner, postdoctoral researcher in the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences conducted a study that measured brain activity when white students were presented with photos of interracial couples. The findings are a bit…well…disturbing.
We first asked a predominantly white sample of college students how disgusted they feel by relationships between blacks and whites and how accepting they were of them. Consistent with polls, participants claimed to be largely accepting of interracial relationships. We found that the less accepting people were of such relationships, the more disgusted they were by them.
However, the problem with asking people to self-report their attitudes about sensitive topics is that they are often unaware or unwilling to report their own biases. Although most white Americans self-report little to no racial bias against black people, they tend to show robust implicit or unconscious biases.
To get around that, we next measured participants’ brain activity, recording the brain waves of a predominantly white sample of college students while they viewed 100 images of black-and-white interracial couples and an equal number of same-race couples (both black and white).
We wanted to see what would happen in the insula, an area of the brain activated when people feel disgusted. Overall, viewing interracial couples increased insula activation — participants showed more activation when looking at interracial couples than same-race couples. Although the insula is not exclusively linked to disgust, taken with the results of our first study, these findings suggest that people feel increased disgust when viewing interracial couples.
Our final study looked at the ramifications of feeling disgusted by interracial couples. Research shows that feeling disgusted by others often leads us to dehumanize them. So we wondered whether disgust about interracial couples might lead people to dehumanize them. We recruited another predominantly white sample of college students and divided them into two groups. One was induced to experience disgust through being shown a series of disgusting images — which was expected to make them more likely to dehumanize interracial couples. The other group was used as a control.
Next, we had participants complete an implicit association test. Such tests are used to gauge unconscious associations by asking people to make split-second categorizations. We asked participants to quickly categorize images of interracial couples, same-race couples, silhouettes of humans and silhouettes of animals. The silhouettes were intended to represent “humanization” and “dehumanization,” respectively.
We predicted that when interracial couples and animals were categorized together, the participants who were primed to feel disgusted would do the task faster. Instead, we found that all participants completed the task faster when interracial couples and animals were categorized using the same button (indicating implicit dehumanization). However, participants who were primed to feel disgusted were able to do it the fastest.
Overall, our research suggests that when it comes to interracial relationships, polls don’t tell the whole story. Interracial couples still elicit disgust in many people, which can translate into dehumanization. These biases evidence deeply ingrained societal attitudes about race in our culture — but there is a new and growing field of research on methods to reduce these biases. [SOURCE]
Here’s the thing. The knowledge that an area in the brain that indicates disgust is triggered when white people see interracial couples doesn’t necessarily mean that the logical, thinking part of the brain doesn’t overrule those base triggers. Your boss may give you a last minute project at 4:55, that you grin and happily take it on, but that doesn’t mean that reptilian part of your brainmight want to punch your boss in the throat. You don’t act because, although you may desire to do that at the moment, you restrain yourself because you know it’s not the wise thing to do. Some may be uncomfortable and feel some type of way to see two women or two men kiss in public, but that doesn’t mean you don’t believe in marriage equality. We all have inclinations and base instincts that we fight against every waking moment because our higher brain keeps that part of ourselves in check.
So what say you? Are you surprised by these results?