Can a Pill Really Cure Racism?

For so long, we've thought that racism was a product of our culture and of ignorance. We assumed it would take decades, or even centuries, more of hard work and education to undo. But silly us, maybe all we really need to do is take a pill. Seriously?

Well, researchers at Oxford University have discovered that a common drug used to treat heart disease also lowers racist attitudes. In the study, volunteers who took small doses of propranolol, a beta blocker, scored lower on tests which detect "subconscious racism" than the volunteers who took a placebo. The catch is that this pill only influenced implicit racism—whether people had a subconscious negative or positive association with pictures of people of different races, in this case. When the participants were asked to rate how "warm" they felt toward different racial groups, a test which measured explicit racism, the pill had no discernable effect.

Scientists believe the drug works to lower feelings of bias because it acts on the part of the brain that regulates fear and emotional response. In fact, propranolol is also used to treat panic and anxiety disorders and to reduce blood pressure. So it makes sense, if your subconscious reactions to people different than you are based on fear, that they'd be altered by propranolol.

It's interesting to think we could eliminate racism, at least on some level, by dosing people up on beta blockers, but as Dr. Chris Chambers, of the University of Cardiff's School of Psychology, told the Telegraph, "We don't know whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally." Either way, we're still a long way from eliminating prejudice using the miracle of modern medicine. Oh well. Though, at least now, if you notice your cranky old grandpa seems a little less racist since he started taking those new heart meds, you'll know why.

Heart disease drug 'combats racism' [Telegraph]

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