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Article: Detecting Prejudice In The Brain

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  • Robert Karl Stonjek
    Detecting Prejudice In The Brain Three Florida teenagers recently pleaded not guilty to the brutal beatings and in one case, death, of homeless men. One of the
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 1 5:21 PM

      Detecting Prejudice In The Brain

      Three Florida teenagers recently pleaded not guilty to the brutal beatings and in one case, death, of homeless men. One of the beatings was caught on surveillance video and in a most chilling way illustrates how people can degrade socially outcast individuals, enough to engage in mockery, physical abuse, and even murder. According to new research, the brain processes social outsiders as less than human; brain imaging provides accurate depictions of this prejudice at an unconscious level.

      A new study by Princeton University psychology researchers Lasana Harris and Susan Fiske shows that when viewing photographs of social out-groups, people respond to them with disgust, not a feeling of fellow humanity. The findings are reported in the article "Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuro-imaging responses to Extreme Outgroups" in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (previously the American Psychological Society).

      Twenty four Princeton University undergraduates viewed a large number of color photographs of different social groups (including Olympic athletes, business professionals, elderly people, and drug addicts), and images of objects (including the Space Shuttle, a sports car, a cemetery, and an overflowing toilet) that elicited the emotions of pride, envy, pity, or disgust. The four emotions were derived from the Stereotype Content Model (SCM), which predicts differentiated prejudices based on warmth and competence. Warmth was determined by friendliness, competence by capability. The two emotional extremes were pride and disgust; pride elicited high warmth and high perception of competence, and disgust elicited low warmth and low perception of competence. Envy and pity were considered moderate prejudices; envy elicited low warmth and high perception of competence, and pity elicited high warmth and low perception of competence.

      Medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) brain imaging determined if the students accurately chose the correct emotion illustrated by the picture (according to pretest results in which a different group of students determined the emotion that best fit each photograph). The MPFC is only activated when a person thinks about him- or her-self or another human. When viewing a picture representing disgust, however, no significant MPFC brain activity was recorded, showing that students did not perceive members of social out-groups as human. The area was only activated when viewing photographs that elicited pride, envy, and pity. (However, other brain regions -- the amygdala and insula -- were activated when viewing photographs of "disgusting" people and nonhuman objects.)

      Emotions themselves were not responsible for generating this brain activity. Rather, it was the actual image viewed that produced a response. The MPFC only showed significant activity when a person saw or thought about a human being. The authors conclude that this lack of MPFC brain activity while viewing photographs of people proves that "members of some social groups seem to be dehumanized."

      Social out-groups are perceived as unable to experience complex human emotions, share in-group beliefs, or act according to societal norms, moral rules, and values. The authors describe this as "extreme discrimination revealing the worst kind of prejudice: excluding out-groups from full humanity." Their study provides evidence that while individuals may consciously see members of social out-groups as people, the brain processes social out-groups as something less than human, whether we are aware of it or not. According to the authors, brain imaging provides a more accurate depiction of this prejudice than the verbal reporting usually used in research studies.

      Source: Association for Psychological Science
      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060630095921.htm

      Comment:
      First, there must be a greater social distance between Princeton University Undergrad students and the outcasts mentioned than between ordinary citizens and such outcasts. 

      Second, being still very young, the students most probably have not experienced the downfall of any relatives or acquaintances.  These downfalls occur as mental diseases such as depression develop or as drug use takes its toll or as the limitless ambition of youth meets the less than accommodating real world and in many cases fails.  It is unlikely that any of the friends of these students have married with high hopes and bright future outlooks only to experience failure and divorce after five or ten years and the problems that may come from that including the compromising of one's career, excessive alcohol use and depression.

      After one has lived for a while one tends to see 'outcasts' more as people who society has chewed up and spat out than as the self made failures that ambitious and untested (in the real world) students see.

      Posted by
      Robert Karl Stonjek

    • David Schneider
      ... True, perhaps in general, but most middle-class Americans live in enclaves that protect them from experiences with people unlike them. Except for TV the
      Message 2 of 3 , Jul 3 7:51 AM
        At 10:21 AM 7/2/2006 +1000, you wrote:


        Detecting Prejudice In The Brain




        A new study by Princeton University psychology researchers Lasana Harris and Susan Fiske shows that when viewing photographs of social out-groups, people respond to them with disgust, not a feeling of fellow humanity. The findings are reported in the article "Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuro-imaging responses to Extreme Outgroups" in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (previously the American Psychological Society).

        Twenty four Princeton University undergraduates viewed a large number of color photographs of different social groups (including Olympic athletes, business professionals, elderly people, and drug addicts), and images of objects (including the Space Shuttle, a sports car, a cemetery, and an overflowing toilet) that elicited the emotions of pride, envy, pity, or disgust. The four emotions were derived from the Stereotype Content Model (SCM), which predicts differentiated prejudices based on warmth and competence. Warmth was determined by friendliness, competence by capability. The two emotional extremes were pride and disgust; pride elicited high warmth and high perception of competence, and disgust elicited low warmth and low perception of competence. Envy and pity were considered moderate prejudices; envy elicited low warmth and high perception of competence, and pity elicited high warmth and low perception of competence.


        Comment:
        First, there must be a greater social distance between Princeton University Undergrad students and the outcasts mentioned than between ordinary citizens and such outcasts. 


        True, perhaps in general, but most middle-class Americans live in enclaves that protect them from experiences with people unlike them. Except for TV the average white, middle-class suburban dweller sees few black people in her neighborhood, knows no gay men and women out of the closet, has never met a drug addict or talked to a homeless person, and goes to church on Sunday with people who share her beliefs and prejudices. Of course, matters may be different with less middle-class types, but the experiences of Princeton students ought to be compared like to like. And at least many Princeton students have been exposed to those awful liberal social scientists, perhaps no replacement for direct experiences with outcasts, but better than many of their parents, I suspect.


        Second, being still very young, the students most probably have not experienced the downfall of any relatives or acquaintances.  These downfalls occur as mental diseases such as depression develop or as drug use takes its toll or as the limitless ambition of youth meets the less than accommodating real world and in many cases fails.  It is unlikely that any of the friends of these students have married with high hopes and bright future outlooks only to experience failure and divorce after five or ten years and the problems that may come from that including the compromising of one's career, excessive alcohol use and depression.

        After one has lived for a while one tends to see 'outcasts' more as people who society has chewed up and spat out than as the self made failures that ambitious and untested (in the real world) students see.


        Exactly the opposite. First, one of the most powerful predictors of prejudice is political conservatism. Second, conservatives tend to prefer individualistic as opposed to structure explanations for group differences. That is, they tend to see personal characteristics as causes rather than societal inequities. Third, college students more than most adults prefer structural explanations, and people become both more conservative and more inclined to individualistic explanations as they get older. Fourth, actual experiences tend to be a poor predictor of prejudice and stereotype reduction. Having a brother or a cousin who remains a drug addict or mentally ill despite attempts to help him are not likely to lead people to think society is at fault.

        Wish your assumptions were true, but I suspect they're not. My The Psychology of Stereotyping discusses these kinds of issues in some detail.


        Posted by
        Robert Karl Stonjek



        With respect,

        Dave

        David J. Schneider
        Professor of Psychology & Director of the Cognitive Sciences Program

        Psychology Department  MS-25
        Rice University
        Box 1892
        Houston, TX  77251

        713-348-5144 (voice)
        713-348-5221 (fax)
        sch@...

        http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~sch

      • Robert Karl Stonjek
        Detecting Prejudice In The Brain Three Florida teenagers recently pleaded not guilty to the brutal beatings and in one case, death, of homeless men. One of the
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 1, 2006

          Detecting Prejudice In The Brain

          Three Florida teenagers recently pleaded not guilty to the brutal beatings and in one case, death, of homeless men. One of the beatings was caught on surveillance video and in a most chilling way illustrates how people can degrade socially outcast individuals, enough to engage in mockery, physical abuse, and even murder. According to new research, the brain processes social outsiders as less than human; brain imaging provides accurate depictions of this prejudice at an unconscious level.

          A new study by Princeton University psychology researchers Lasana Harris and Susan Fiske shows that when viewing photographs of social out-groups, people respond to them with disgust, not a feeling of fellow humanity. The findings are reported in the article "Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuro-imaging responses to Extreme Outgroups" in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (previously the American Psychological Society).

          Twenty four Princeton University undergraduates viewed a large number of color photographs of different social groups (including Olympic athletes, business professionals, elderly people, and drug addicts), and images of objects (including the Space Shuttle, a sports car, a cemetery, and an overflowing toilet) that elicited the emotions of pride, envy, pity, or disgust. The four emotions were derived from the Stereotype Content Model (SCM), which predicts differentiated prejudices based on warmth and competence. Warmth was determined by friendliness, competence by capability. The two emotional extremes were pride and disgust; pride elicited high warmth and high perception of competence, and disgust elicited low warmth and low perception of competence. Envy and pity were considered moderate prejudices; envy elicited low warmth and high perception of competence, and pity elicited high warmth and low perception of competence.

          Medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) brain imaging determined if the students accurately chose the correct emotion illustrated by the picture (according to pretest results in which a different group of students determined the emotion that best fit each photograph). The MPFC is only activated when a person thinks about him- or her-self or another human. When viewing a picture representing disgust, however, no significant MPFC brain activity was recorded, showing that students did not perceive members of social out-groups as human. The area was only activated when viewing photographs that elicited pride, envy, and pity. (However, other brain regions -- the amygdala and insula -- were activated when viewing photographs of "disgusting" people and nonhuman objects.)

          Emotions themselves were not responsible for generating this brain activity. Rather, it was the actual image viewed that produced a response. The MPFC only showed significant activity when a person saw or thought about a human being. The authors conclude that this lack of MPFC brain activity while viewing photographs of people proves that "members of some social groups seem to be dehumanized."

          Social out-groups are perceived as unable to experience complex human emotions, share in-group beliefs, or act according to societal norms, moral rules, and values. The authors describe this as "extreme discrimination revealing the worst kind of prejudice: excluding out-groups from full humanity." Their study provides evidence that while individuals may consciously see members of social out-groups as people, the brain processes social out-groups as something less than human, whether we are aware of it or not. According to the authors, brain imaging provides a more accurate depiction of this prejudice than the verbal reporting usually used in research studies.

          Source: Association for Psychological Science
          http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/06/060630095921.htm

          Posted by
          Robert Karl Stonjek

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