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Can Propranolol cure racism?

by | 8th, March 2012

CAN Propranolol, a beta blocker, prevents/ cure racism? In tests, those given the drug scored lower when tested for “implicit” racist prejudices and fears. The Telegraph reports:

Scientists believe the discovery can be explained by the fact that racism is fundamentally founded on fear.

Propranolol acts both on nerve circuits that govern automatic functions such as heart rate, and the part of the brain involved in fear and emotional responses. The drug is also used to treat anxiety and panic.

Experimental psychologist Dr Sylvia Terbeck, from Oxford University, who led the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, said: “Our results offer new evidence about the processes in the brain that shape implicit racial bias. Implicit racial bias can occur even in people with a sincere belief in equality. Given the key role that such implicit attitudes appear to play in discrimination against other ethnic groups, and the widespread use of propranolol for medical purposes, our findings are also of considerable ethical interest.”

Can you put it into the water?

Despite the study’s small size and limitations, the researchers believe it raises important ethical and philosophical questions.

Co-author Professor Julian Savulescu, from Oxford University’s Faculty of Philosophy, said: “Such research raises the tantalising possibility that our unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs, a possibility that requires careful ethical analysis.“Biological research aiming to make people morally better has a dark history. And propranolol is not a pill to cure racism. But given that many people are already using drugs like propranolol which have ‘moral’ side effects, we at least need to better understand what these effects are.”

But Dr Chris Chambers, from the University of Cardiff’s School of Psychology, said the results should be viewed with “extreme caution”. He said: “We don’t know whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally. And we can’t rule out the possibility that the effects were due to the drug incidentally reducing heart rate. So although interesting, in my view these preliminary results are a long way from suggesting that propranolol specifically influences racial attitudes.”

Wonder if ecstasy works better..?

Image: Health – Sir James Black – Nobel Prize – Rayne Institute, London. Sir James Black, in his laboratory at the Rayne Institute, London, after hearing the news that he has been awarded the 1988 Nobel medicine prize. The Scottish doctor developed a beta-blocker drug called propranolol, used to treat coronary disease.

Spotter: Dangerous Minds



Posted: 8th, March 2012 | In: Technology Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink