Researchers Try to Cure Racism

By | January 22, 2009

As the first African-American president in United States history takes office, researchers have shown that it may be possible to scientifically reduce racial bias.

After being trained to distinguish between similar black male faces, Caucasian test subjects showed greater racial tolerance on a test designed to to measure unconscious bias.

… Underpinning this research is the Implicit Association Test, used by psychologists to measure deep-rooted, often unconscious biases. During the test, subjects are measured on the time it takes to associate faces with positive or negative words. If, for example, someone more quickly associates negative words with minority rather than white faces, they’re likely to have a bias — a bias that translates into a tendency to hire same-race workers, choose same-race partners, and find minority defendants guilty.

If the bias can be changed, perhaps the behavior will follow.

“The entire idea of neural plasticity is a new one. We didn’t think that the brain was capable of change as we now know it to be,” said Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard University psychologist whose online Project Implicit has administered 4.5 million bias tests in the last decade. “The bias stuff we learn is heading in that direction, telling us that there is the ability to change.”

“It’s remarkable that our brain is so flexible that 10 hours of training will affect something that is the product of your whole life experience,” said Tarr …

via Researchers Try to Cure Racism | Wired Science from Wired.com.

The reader comments at the end of the full Wired article were interesting. One person, for example, feared losing the blindness to individual differences which seems to me to be the root of racism. I had this same idea, that education, helping people see individual differences–not just physical, is a cure for learned ignorance. (See my Orange Bigot example.) There are many other human mental problems which cause us distress that result from a lack of discernment, simply not being able to detect when things are the same or different.

Discernment is a key to many good things: Lucid dreams, absolute pitch (ability to recognize musical notes without a reference), curing paranoia, selecting healthy foods, and the list goes on. We label things with great utility, but once we fit something into a group “tree”, “chair”, “[ethnophaulism]”, etc. then we can fail to see the actual characteristics of the item or person. This is why racism is a form of mental laziness or stupidity, and also why it can be corrected.

See full size imageIf a man wearing a blue hat robs you, fearing all men in blue hats from that point, or throwing all men in blue hats in jail would be stupid. Yet this is essentially the error of logic made by racists.  The “us vs them” type thinking is also why we have long standing battles, such as the Middle East conflict.  Religious and national identification as “Israeli” or “Palestinian” is the root of the problem in my view.  Is this little girl an “Israeli” or a “Palestinian”? Who cares.  Remember Romeo and Juliet written around 1590? Flash forward to the modern Middle East. There was a law against intermingling at one point and the separatism continues in both cultures. [Example from 2007 ] We should hit the whole area with a love bomb. Get them to inter-marry like crazy. Problem solved.

Discernment was a difference between John McCain and Barack Obama. McCain, during the debates, wanted to freeze all government spending. Obama’s reply is that you need a surgical approach, just remove the spending that is bad, not all spending.  Obama’s view showed discernment, McCains over grouping.

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