Looks like the cure for conservatism will actually beat a cure for cancer… Yup – “There’s a pill for that!”
A common heart disease drug may have the unusual side-effect of combating racism, a new study suggests.
The beta-blocker drug can reduce ‘subconscious’ racism, the Oxford University study found.
Researchers found that people who took propranolol scored significantly lower on a standard test used to detect subconscious racial attitudes, than those who took a placebo.
Propranolol is most often used to reduce high blood pressure by lowering the heart rate, as well as angina and irregular heartbeat. It is also used to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety, and control migraine.
It is thought to work by blocking activation of the peripheral ‘autonomic’ nervous system, and in areas of the brain involved with formulating emotional responses, including fear, called the amygdalae.
The researchers believe propranolol reduces racial bias because such subconscious thoughts are triggered by that autonomic nervous system.
Their small study took 36 white student volunteers, gave half a single 40mg dose of propranolol and half a placebo, and asked them all to undertake the Implicit Association Test – designed to test “subtle and spontaneous biased behaviour” – two hours later.
The test requires participants to visually sort particular words like ‘joy’ ,’evil’, ‘happy’ and ‘glorious’, as well as black and white faces, into the correct categories.
Sylvia Terbeck, lead author of the study, published in the journalPsychopharmacology, 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.”
Professor Julian Savulescu, of the university’s Faculty of Philosophy, and a co-author of the study, said: “Such research raises the tantalising possibility that our unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs, a possibility that requires careful ethical analysis.