Most people in the United States say they accept interracial relationships, but a new study of brain activity shows some hidden bias.
Researchers surveyed students at the University of Nebraska — young people, not those who grew up in a more overtly racist time — and recorded their brain activity while they looked at pictures of hundreds of couples.
In a survey of attitudes about relationships, the students reported little disapproval of interracial couples.
But photos of interracial couples triggered activity in a part of the brain that registers disgust.
While sitting in front of a computer, the photos of mixed-race and same-race couples were randomly shown to participants.
They were told that they had to quickly respond to whether the couple should be “included” or “excluded” from a future study on relationships by pressing a button that corresponded to each answer.
As part of a longer survey, participants were also asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 100 how disgusted they felt about a black man in a romantic relationship with a white woman, or a white man in a relationship with a black woman.
“We chose to limit our investigation to black-white interracial romances because previous research indicates that whites show the strongest opposition to black-white interracial couples,” according to the study.
“We chose to avoid adding an additional layer of complexity by restricting our investigation to heterosexual couples.” In the first experiment, 152 students were asked whether they accepted mixed-race relationships.
But one of the bigger take-aways of that experiment was that when people were already made to feel disgusted by the gross images, they were more likely to elicit a strong reaction against interracial couples.
It’s a warning, Skinner said, that this country has not gotten rid of its bias against interracial romance.