Brain shows unconscious prejudices

1 min read

Fear center is activated by others who are different

A brain area involved with fear flashes more actively when white college students are exposed to subliminal views of black versus white faces. The students didn’t actually “see” the faces, which were sandwiched between two patterns they viewed while undergoing brain scans. But they had a clear, deep-brain reaction to them. The same type of bias shows up in Web site tests taken by hundreds of thousands of other people. They reveal unconscious prejudice against the elderly, gays, women, the obese, and a wide range of other groups. Such brain and behavior tests might lead you to view the world as a grim place suffused with hidden hate and fear. But evidently things are not that bad. When white subjects undergoing brain scans see the black face long enough for it to register consciously, brain areas involved with controlled thinking become active. The differences in reactions to black and white faces then decrease. “The imprint of culture is what we see in the subliminal exposure,” explains Mahzarin Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University. “Seeing the face consciously allows thoughts and feelings to generate a more reasoned response to the face in view.”