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Race Roundup

May 14, 2010

What prejudice looks like in the brain.


Race and the brain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When a person sees another person perform a task, like drinking a glass of water, neurons in the person’s brain fire just as if he or she is drinking the water. It’s called the "mirror neuron system" and scientists think it’s involved in empathy. Now, University of Toronto researchers report that when white people watch a video of a non-white person drinking water, there is little response– in some cases, no more than the response to a blank screen. The team suspects that this lack of brain activation is behind racism, and are now exploring whether interventions can change the brain pattern.

In related research, people with Williams Syndrome are born without social fear, making them extremely friendly. Now researchers have found that they also lack even a trace of racism. The scientists conclude that social fear could be a key factor in the racism seen in other people. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.