After generations of struggle, could there be a bite-sized solution to racism? Researchers at Oxford University have found that the blood-pressure treatment drug propranolol dramatically reduces prejudice in test subjects.
The team gave ‘implicit association tests’ to white volunteers with and without the drug, recording the words they associated with images of black people. Prejudice was three times higher without propranolol, the drug prescribed for angina and irregular heartbeats
“The drug suppresses basic emotions like fear,” head of study Sylvia Terbeck told Metro.
She believes this is a significant breakthrough in the psychology of racism.
“This proves there is a lot of fear (in racism.)”
Yet the implications are far from clear-cut.
“It’s an interesting area of research but it also raises serious ethical questions,” says Adam Kolber, a psychologist at the Brooklyn Law School.
He feels that if the results are accurate, there could be a time when people are pressured to take such drugs ‘perhaps as a condition of parole for prisoners.
Kolber also questions the methodology.
Although the implicit association test is respected, implicit racism is “hard to measure” and can result in “superficial” analysis.
The research does not address explicit racism.
Although Terbeck’s study is causing excitement in psychology circles, anti-racism campaigners are worried this approach could detract from grass-roots efforts.
“We should be convincing people that racism is wrong instead of papering over the cracks with this miracle cure.” Youth Against Racism spokesman Ian Pattison said.