Get your head around this: Test subjects given the heart disease medication, Propranolol, a beta blocker, were found to score lower on a test of “implicit” racist prejudices and fears. From the Telegraph:
Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that racism is fundamentally founded on fear.
Propranolol acts both on nerve circuits that govern automatic functions such as heart rate, and the part of the brain involved in fear and emotional responses. The drug is also used to treat anxiety and panic.
Experimental psychologist Dr Sylvia Terbeck, from Oxford University, who led the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, said: “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. Given the key role that such implicit attitudes appear to play in discrimination against other ethnic groups, and the widespread use of propranolol for medical purposes, our findings are also of considerable ethical interest.”
I’d say so!
Despite the study’s small size and limitations, the researchers believe it raises important ethical and philosophical questions.
Co-author Professor Julian Savulescu, from Oxford University’s Faculty of Philosophy, said: “Such research raises the tantalising possibility that our 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. 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.”
But Dr Chris Chambers, from the University of Cardiff’s School of Psychology, said the results should be viewed with “extreme caution”. He said: “We don’t know whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally.
And we can’t rule out the possibility that the effects were due to the drug incidentally reducing heart rate. So although interesting, in my view these preliminary results are a long way from suggesting that propranolol specifically influences racial attitudes.”
Fascinating stuff, although my first thought was wondering how you’d get an Archie Bunker-type (or a Telegraph reader) to agree to take it?