If there’s one thing that the recent United States elections made plain to me, it’s that, sadly, there’s a lot more racism still about than I had realised – and that goes for this side of the pond as well, and pretty much everywhere.
But what if there was a way to ‘cure’ racism? It’s a tricky question, because prejudice of any kind isn’t a disease or pathology as such; it’s part of the way our minds are wired, but (to use an analogy which I hope isn’t too inaccurate) it’s more of a software issue rather than a hardware problem.
Tarr’s findings overlap with other results suggesting that the key to reducing racial bias — at least in a short-term, laboratory setting — is exposure to people in personalized ways that challenge stereotypes. This is hardly a new notion: it’s the essence of the contact hypothesis, formulated in the mid-20th century and the basis of integrated schooling.
But unlike carefully structured social mixing, with precisely controlled conditions of interdependence and equality, Tarr and others raise the possibility of a a lab-based shortcut to bias reduction.
Even if this method turns out to be genuinely effective and harmless, I doubt we’ll be seeing it deployed en masse any time soon. Maybe it would be applied to serious recidivists as a punitive correctional method, but the legal implications of rewriting someone’s mind are going to be an ethical minefield for years to come. And to receive the cure voluntarily would be an admission of being racist, which is the principle barrier to defeating the bias in the first place… even so, an interesting insight into mental plasticity.
I wonder if they could remove my positive bias towards unhealthy foods?