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A pill that can cure racism?
by Robert Randle
03/10/12
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Dr. Sylvia Terbeck and her colleagues at Oxford University conducted a clinical study, which was recently published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that “Propranolol,” which works to combat high blood pressure, anxiety, migraines, and a number of heart ailments, affects the same part of the central nervous system that regulates subconscious attitudes on race. Needless to say, these findings have created a lot of buzz on the internet as well as some activity among those in the medical community.

There is concern among ethical issues raised by the use of medication to modulate or control human behavior; but wait, don’t we have doctors writing out prescriptions for drugs that our local pharmacist gladly fills that does the same thing anyway? Dr. Chris Chambers of Cardiff University School of Psychology postulates whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or alters implicit brain systems more generally; especially reducing the heart rate.

Some have questioned the validity of the test because all the participants were White males. Experimental psychologist Sylvia Terbeck and her team gave two groups of 18 volunteers either a placebo or a dose of propranolol, then put them through a battery of tests designed to gauge racism, such as matching "positive and negative words and pictures of black and white individuals on a computer screen." More than a third of the propranolol takers scored negative, meaning they showed little subconscious racial bias; none of the placebo-takers [White??] scored negative.

It seems that when one experiences anxiety and panic, the heart rate increases, stimulating a region in the brain called the amygdala; which processes emotions, including fear. The Oxford team posits that racism is tied to fear, so inhibiting the amygdala suppresses racist urges. However, Terbeck cautions that the drug had no measurable effect on "explicit racial bias." This seems to mean that although propranolol can alleviate or lessen the symptoms of stress and anxiety bylowerng blood pressure and heart rate, makng a person feel calmer, less intense and more subdued, it does not however, change overt racist attitudes or behavior.

According to one of the online posts, “This medication is a common Beta blocker. It has been in use for quite a while. It has shown excellent results to settle the effects of Traumatic stress. It is used to help individuals with PTSD be able to talk about what previously caused too much anxiety. Since racism is a conception based on stereotypes and generalizations which has with it an implicit anxiety, it is not surprising that it helps people with their subtle fears and phobias as they are related to [matters of] race.”

Also, there was an interesting online comment that mentioned about the high numbers of African Americans who suffer from the symptoms of high blood pressure than any other ethnic group, so are they subconscious ‘racists’? Looking at the matter realistically, in all due respects to Dr. Terbeck and her esteemed Oxford research team, the test subjects could have been given a battery of tests where a strong emotional response other than racial bias could have been the end result; thereby stimulating the “amygdala.”

Be that as it may, since race seems to get so much attention, I agree with the person who posited, “Do you have a pill to make people [us] forget all about race”?


Robert Randle 776 Commerce St. #B-11
Tacoma, WA 98402
March 9, 2012 robertrandle51@yahoo.com









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