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Brain Physiology and Biases

Negative feelings about black people may be subconsciously learned by both white and black Americans, suggests a brain imaging study. The research is among the first to test the brain physiology of racial biases in both black and white subjects.

The new study showed that both white and black people had increased activity in an area of the brain called the amygdala - which responds to fearful or threatening situations - when completing a matching task with images of black faces.


Interestingly, when the subjects performed the verbal matching tasks, the race-biased amygdala effect disappeared. The scans showed that when word processing, areas of the brain involved in fighting impulses or inhibitory control took over.

â??The moment you start thinking about race in words you know youâ??re thinking about it and can make decisions,â? says Lieberman. â??In general, putting your feelings into words seems to regulate or dampen those feelings.â? [â??Brain scans reveal racial biasesâ? by Anna Gosline, New Scientist, 8 May 2005]

Although caution should be taken in interpreting results of the study, it also helps to confirm my opinion that a recognition of the power of our irrational nature should not be downplayed no matter how rational weâ??d like to view ourselves. Regarding other studies mentioned briefly in the article, how about black Americans showing â??preferentially positive associations for white peopleâ? in Implicit Attitude Tests? Awareness of our limitations are driven home when we at times are confronted with the reality of evil in the guise of harmlessness.

On the other hand, I feel that our nonrational nature should not always be viewed negatively. Certain instincts have a function of self-preservation. Also, by combining what some consider a higher nonrational nature with a balancing rational interpreter, we can learn from our experiences and benefit from vistas beyond the mundane.

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