Blood pressure drug 'reduces in-built racism'
This is another dubious exercise with the IAT. The test detects "racism" in people who are often vehemently anti-racist so the simple conclusion from that is that it is not valid. It does not measure what it purports to measure. To say it measures "implicit" racism is just faith and contrary to the evidence
What actually happened in the study below could have been that the drug slowed people down mentally and made them more inaccurate or sloppy in their sorting task.
I threw together some time ago a collection of skeptical academic comments on the IAT here. The test may measure something but we cannot be sure what. It could even measure caution about being racist. Journal abstract included below
A common heart disease drug may have the unusual side-effect of combating racism, a new study suggests. The beta-blocker drug can reduce 'subconscious' racism, the Oxford University study found.
Researchers found that people who took propranolol scored significantly lower on a standard test used to detect subconscious racial attitudes, than those who took a placebo.
Propranolol is most often used to reduce high blood pressure by lowering the heart rate, as well as angina and irregular heartbeat. It is also used to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety, and control migraine.
It is thought to work by blocking activation of the peripheral 'autonomic' nervous system, and in areas of the brain involved with formulating emotional responses, including fear, called the amygdalae.
The researchers believe propranolol reduces racial bias because such subconscious thoughts are triggered by that autonomic nervous system.
Their small study took 36 white student volunteers, gave half a single 40mg dose of propranolol and half a placebo, and asked them all to undertake the Implicit Association Test - designed to test "subtle and spontaneous biased behaviour" - two hours later.
The test requires participants to visually sort particular words like 'joy' ,'evil', 'happy' and 'glorious', as well as black and white faces, into the correct categories.
Sylvia Terbeck, lead author of the study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology, said: "Our results offer new evidence about the processes in the brain that shape implicit racial bias.
"Implicit racial bias can occur even in people with a sincere belief in equality. "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."
Professor Julian Savulescu, of the university's Faculty of Philosophy, and a co-author of the study, said: "Such research raises the tantalising possibility that our unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs, a possibility that requires careful ethical analysis.
"Biological research aiming to make people morally better has a dark history. And propranolol is not a pill to cure racism. But given that many people are already using drugs like propranolol which have 'moral' side effects, we at least need to better understand what these effects are."
But Dr Chris Chambers, from Cardiff University's School of Psychology, said the results should be treated with "extreme caution". He said: "We don't know whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally. And we can't rule out the possibility that the effects were due to the drug incidentally reducing heart rate.
"So although interesting, in my view these preliminary results are a long way from suggesting that propranolol specifically influences racial attitudes."
Propranolol reduces implicit negative racial bias
By Terbeck S et al.
BACKGROUND: Implicit negative attitudes towards other races are important in certain kinds of prejudicial social behaviour. Emotional mechanisms are thought to be involved in mediating implicit "outgroup" bias but there is little evidence concerning the underlying neurobiology. The aim of the present study was to examine the role of noradrenergic mechanisms in the generation of implicit racial attitudes.
METHODS: Healthy volunteers (n=36) of white ethnic origin, received a single oral dose of the β-adrenoceptor antagonist, propranolol (40 mg), in a randomised, double-blind, parallel group, placebo-controlled, design. Participants completed an explicit measure of prejudice and the racial implicit association test (IAT), 1-2 h after propranolol administration.
RESULTS: Relative to placebo, propranolol significantly lowered heart rate and abolished implicit racial bias, without affecting the measure of explicit racial prejudice. Propranolol did not affect subjective mood.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results indicate that β-adrenoceptors play a role in the expression of implicit racial attitudes suggesting that noradrenaline-related emotional mechanisms may mediate negative racial bias. Our findings may also have practical importance given that propranolol is a widely used drug. However, further studies will be needed to examine whether a similar effect can be demonstrated in the course of clinical treatment.