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Are we natural-born racists?

A simple test revealed the writer’s ingrained prejudice. Equally simple psychology can help all of us to remove it.

We’re herd animals
We’re herd animals
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Humans are tribal creatures, showing strong bias against those we perceive as different from us and favouritism towards those we perceive as similar.

In fact, we humans will frequently divide ourselves into in-groups and out-groups even when the perceived differences between the specific groups are completely arbitrary.

In one study, subjects are asked to rate how much they like a large series of paintings, some of which are described as belonging to the ‘Red’ artistic school and others to the ‘Green’ school.

Then participants are randomly sorted into two groups, red or green. In subsequent tasks, people consistently show favouritism towards the arbitrary colour group to which they are assigned.

In other words, if you give people the slightest push towards behaving tribally, they’ll happily comply.

So if race is the basis on which tribes are identified, expect serious problems.

One simple evolutionary explanation for our tendency towards tribalism is safety in numbers.

You’re more likely to survive an attack from a marauding tribe if you join forces with your buddies.

And primal fear of those not in the in-group also seems closely tied to racial bias.

Amodio’s research suggests that one key area associated with prejudice is the amygdala, a small and evolutionarily ancient region in the middle of the brain that is responsible for triggering the notorious fight-or-flight response.

In interracial situations, Amodio explains, amygdala firing can translate into anything from “less direct eye gaze and more social distance” to literal fear and vigilance towards those of other races.



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