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Are we born prejudiced?

Talk on emerging research regarding the origins of prejudice

Dr. H. C. Sinclair

on 4 October 2018

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Transcript of Are we born prejudiced?

Hard-wired to hate?
Racist Hearts, Egalitarian Brains?
Old Wiring
Where it begins
On the Origins of Prejudice
Are we born prejudiced?
In-groups (Us)
Out-groups (Them)
What do we mean by “categorization?”
Division into groups (Bruner, 1957)
Physical objects
Is inevitable, automatic, often unconscious, but necessary for bias to occur
Social Categorization
In a matter of milliseconds
A blink of the eye
When does it start?
Before 9 months...
Person or object?
The Medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC) activates when people do things that involve perceiving and relating to other people and deciding whether they are important to the "Self," such as recognizing and distinguishing between faces and empathizing.

Fiske & Harris found that like objects such as tables, images of certain groups of people—the homeless (& drug addicts) —would fail to activate the mPFC.
But....Amodio's work shows that the portions of the brain associated with recognition of a person as a person (a face as a face) is slower for out-group faces. (As is activation of mirror neurons for outgroup members in pain - Berlingeri et al, 2016.)
What does light up quickly? The amygdala.
"And once an emotional association is formed in subcortical circuitry, it is difficult, if not impossible, to unlearn." - Amodio, 2010
Scott's research indicates that by the time they are 9 months old, babies are better able to recognize faces and emotional expressions of people who belong to the group they interact with most, than they are those of people who belong to another race.
Younger infants appear equally able to tell people apart, regardless of race. But as early as 3 months prefer looking at own-race faces (Kelly et al., 2008).
“These results suggest that biases in face recognition and perception begin in preverbal infants, well before concepts about race are formed.” - Lisa Scott, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst
Familiar v. Not Familiar?
No Threat v. Threat?
The Current Controversy
Consider this...
1) People who exhibit more prejudiced attitudes show more amygdala response - particularly in right amygdala (extending into the ventral pallidum).
2) Highly prejudiced people also show more activation in the face-processing areas of the visual cortex when looking at outgroup faces.
3) Amygdala responses are not evident for whites exposed to famous black faces.
Repeated exposure to black faces reduces amygdala activation
4) However, even African-American adults show right amygdala responses to black male faces (Chekroud et al., 2014).
Give me half a second!
Slight changes in context =
Big differences in reactions
For better or for worse
Realistic Conflict Theory
We learn the "social" in
which to categorize
In fact, Cunningham found that among whites, black faces trigger amygdala activity only when these faces were seen for thirty milliseconds or less = subconscious exposure.

When whites had the chance to see black faces a bit longer (525 milliseconds) and process them consciously, their amygdala activity wasn’t unusually high.

Rather they showed increased activity in brain areas associated with inhibition and self-control
Part of the me/not me process
What is my social identity?
Undifferentiated --> Familiar/Unfamiliar Categorization ---> Ethnic Awareness --> Ethnic Preference --> Ethnic Prejudice
And a function of cognitive capabilities
Aboud, 1988
Social Cognitive Development
"The concordance of personal beliefs and stereotype knowledge found among very young children is not prejudice as typically conceived, but rather a function of their inability to make personal judgments that diverge from dominant stereotypes." - Augoustinos & Rosewarne, 2001
"There's more to the human brain than fear. The basic machinery for gut reactions and snap judgments was present in the brains of our distant ancestors, and the same structures are still found in our brains today, primarily in the human subcortex. These relatively simple mechanisms for detecting "us" vs. "them" are helpful for species living in basic societies that do not require cooperation with outside groups." -Amodio, 2010
New Wiring
The Egalitarian Brain
Keep your eye on the prize...
But with each step of our evolution, the demands of social interaction grew enormously. And these changes corresponded with dramatic brain developments. Namely, the neocortex which provides a mechanism for fine-tuning and augmenting the functions of subcortical structures.
Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex
(Amodio et al, 2008)
Higher activation among people with positive attitudes toward blacks.
Including after "slip-ups"
Region associated with greater self-control.
Unique to processing information about stigmatized persons (Krendl et al., 2012)
Anterior cingulate
Monitors match between motor responses & behavioral intention
Refocus on goal
Approach not avoid
Reports of our “racist brains” have stolen headlines, depicting humans as victims to the unconscious prejudices lurking in the dark corners of our minds. But the fuller story portrays the human brain as being expertly equipped to overcome automatic prejudices and build positive social relationships. - Amodio, 2010
Is there a rebound?
Prejudice Process
1) Person Perception
2) Person Categorization
3) Stereotype Activation
4) Stereotype Application
When are you prejudiced?
Not for those motivated to be egalitarian
You just have to be motivated to use it.

Racism on the Brain
Brosch et al., 2012
"People are racist first of all and then they go and find justifications for it. Racism is the container and everyone fills it with his own content.” - Chaim Gil, Holocaust survivor
3.5 Inhibition Activation
Full transcript