The brain reacts to races differently

Research conducted by neuroscientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough has indicated that the brain reacts differently in regards to how humans relate to other races.

The research which was led by PhD student Jennifer Gutsell and Assistant Professor Dr. Michael Inzlicht studied participants who were all white while they watched a series of videos where men of different races picked up a glass and took a sip of water. The white participants were hooked up to electroencephalogram (EEG) machines which measures the brain’s electrical activity.

Professor Inzlicht found that participants’ motor cortex was less likely to react when they watched non-whites performing tasks and in some cases participants registered as little activity similar to when they watched a blank screen.

Interestingly, Gutsell said “Previous research shows people are less likely to feel connected to people outside their own ethnic groups, and we wanted to know why.” (Medical News Today: 28 April 2010)

She added, “What we found is that there is a basic difference in the way peoples’ brains react to those from other ethnic backgrounds. Observing someone of a different race produced significantly less motor-cortex activity than observing a person of one’s own race. In other words, people were less likely to mentally simulate the actions of other-race than same-race people.”

Inzlicht also said, “The so-called mirror-neuron-system is thought to be an important building block for empathy by allowing people to ‘mirror’ other people’s actions and emotions; our research indicates that this basic building block is less reactive to people who belong to a different race than you.”

Are the differences displayed in the study a result of environment or nature? Gutsell and Inzlicht seem to believe that it is the social environment which explains the differences in the study and they argue that “…cognitive perspective taking exercises, for example, can increase empathy and understanding, thereby offering hope to reduce prejudice.” This in fact is the next step in their study to see whether cognitive perspective exercises can have measurable effects on the brain.

It would have been interesting if Gutsell and Inzlicht had used non-white participants in their research to see whether they would show marked differences in how they relate to other races as well.

The understanding of human differences is essential in eradicating racism and other forms of prejudices and research such as this seems to reveal that the environment plays a prominent role in how races relate to each other in society.

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