Could popping pills make racists change their ways? British researchers claim that a common heart drug significantly reduces racist attitudes. White volunteers given small doses of the beta blocker propranolol scored lower than a control group on a test designed to measure subconscious racist attitudes, the Telegraph reports. The Oxford University team believes the change in attitude was caused by the drug's effect on the parts of the brain and nervous system that regulate fear.
"Our results offer new evidence about the processes in the brain that shape implicit racial bias," says the lead researcher, adding that such bias "can occur even in people with a sincere belief in equality." A psychologist not involved in the study, however, says the findings should be treated with "extreme caution." It's not clear "whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only, or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally," he says. "And we can't rule out the possibility that the effects were due to the drug incidentally reducing heart rate."