Researchers in England have concluded that a drug used to treat heart disease could have the added effect of altering a person’s subconscious attitudes on race.
The research, conducted by scientists and psychiatrists at Oxford University, found that a commonly used beta-blocker has an impact on diminishing people’s racial prejudices.
The study involved two groups, each with 18 participants. Each group was asked to take what researchers called a test just a few hours after taking the beta-blocker drug or a placebo.
The test involved a combination of positive and negative language, alongside images of Black and white subjects. The participants were asked to use a psychological tool used to assess explicit racial prejudice. The test involves the subjects being asked how warm or cold each participant felt towards the images, rating them on a scale of 1 to 10.
The research revealed that a third of the volunteers who had taken the heart drug had negative scores, meaning they were more inclined to hold non-racist views. These results were compared to the attitudes of those who took placebo pills.
Beta-blockers are commonly used in heart patients to treat chest pains and to lower heart rates. This works by blocking the activation in the peripheral ‘autonomic’ nervous system.
“Our results offer new evidence about the processes in the brain that shape implicit racial bias,” said Sylvia Terbeck, who was the lead author from the study.
"Implicit racial bias can occur even in people with a sincere belief in equality,” she said. “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."
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