A common heart disease drug may also alter subconscious racial attitudes, a new study has found, leading scientists to suggest that racism is based on fear.
Tests on volunteers who took the beta-blocker propranolol showed they were less racially biased than those who took a placebo, the Independent reported.
Propranolol acts on nerve circuits that govern automatic functions such as heart rate, as well as those that govern the part of the brain involved in fear and emotional responses. For that reason, it is also used to treat anxiety and panic.
According to the Australian Associated Press, the scientists conducting the study believed the discovery could be explained by the fact that racism was fundamentally founded on fear.
AAP cited experimental psychologist Doctor Sylvia Terbeck, from Oxford University, who led the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, as saying:
"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."
According to the Associated Press, two groups of 18 volunteers were involved in the study, with each being asked to undertake a "racial Implicit Association Test" (IAT) one to two hours after taking propranolol or the placebo.
Asked to categorize positive and negative words when shown pictures of black and white people on a computer screen, more than a third of the volunteers taking propranolol had a "negative" IAT score — effectively, they were biased towards being non-racist at a subconscious level.