Friday, August 05, 2005

Study: Race fears linger like dread of snakes - Science - MSNBC.com

Study: Race fears linger like dread of snakes - Science - MSNBC.com:
Researchers find negative reactions may be changed with socialization


New research shows that we have a hard time letting go of fears associated with members of a different race. This apparent predisposition was reduced in those who had been involved in interracial dating.

The basic experiment paired mild electric shocks with pictures of male faces, as well as various animals. When the shocks were removed, the subjects continued to react fearfully to the faces of a different race.

“What was most surprising for me was that the responses were equal for black and white participants,” said Elizabeth Phelps from New York University. “In our culture, we have certain stereotypes, which might make you expect a white person to hold onto negative associations with black males. But black persons had a similar reaction toward white males.”
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Phelps and her colleagues measured a fear response by increased sweating in their adult subjects. As previous experiments have shown, images of snakes and spiders elicited a response even after the shocks stopped, while the negative emotional reaction to birds and butterflies quickly subsided.

This bias toward different animals is thought to be inherent as opposed to learned. Humans who were born wary of snakes and spiders had a better chance to survive. An evolutionary basis is supported by other research with primates. Lab monkeys, who had never seen a real snake in their life, showed persistent fear of a toy snake, but not a toy bunny.

When the subjects were presented images of unfamiliar black and white men with neutral facial expressions, the fear response lingered only for those images of the racial outgroup, as depicted by a man from a different race than the subject.

“The pattern of response was essentially identical for the classical cases of snakes and spiders as for the racial outgroups,” Phelps told LiveScience.

The tendency to hold onto these racial fears may influence how we think. We may more readily remember negative information about the other race, and it will be harder to change our initial impressions."

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