Researchers at Oxford University say a drug commonly used to treat heart disease may also make patients less racist.
In their study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology this month, volunteers given a dose of the beta-blocker propranolol scored lower on a test to measure subconscious racial biases.
The researchers believe their thought-provoking findings could prove that biases are based on automatic, non-conscious emotional responses in the brain—which propranolol blocks—though they cautioned that the drug is not exactly a pill to cure racism.
Three dozen white, mostly British volunteers participated in the experiment. Half were given propranolol and the others were given a placebo before taking an Implicit Association Test (IAT), a common tool in social psychology to gauge subconscious attitudes with snap word and picture associations.
The volunteers who took propranolol scored much lower on the racial IAT and a third of them achieved a negative score, meaning a majority of their subconscious associations were non-racist. No one in the placebo group had such results.
Propranolol had no effect on the participants’ “explicit,” or conscious, prejudices, which were measured when the volunteers were asked to rate how they felt about different groups, including white people, black people, homosexuals, Muslims, Christians and drug addicts.