"Feeling racist? Blood pressure pill Propanolol may open hearts and minds"

This article appeared on Yahoo News yesterday:


Evidently when people took Propanolol, a drug used to lower blood pressure, their racial attitudes changed and they became less "racist."

The measure of "racism" used here was the Harvard University Implicit Association test. In this test, you click on one letter when you see a white face, and another when you see a black one, doing it as fast as you can. Then you do the same for good words and bad words, continuing at top speed. Then you click on one letter for both white faces and good words, and another for black faces and bad words. Finally, they reverse the linkage, so that one letter is for white faces and bad words, and the other for black faces and good words. If, while going as fast as you can, you can't reverse course perfectly and you make an error on the last segment of the test, this "proves" that you are "racist."

Wouldn't it have been better to just ask straightforward questions of people about their racial attitudes? Or even better, to ask them straightforward questions after having administered some truth serum (sodium pentothal)? If Propanolol "cures" racism, I'm guessing sodium pentothal "causes" it.

Actually, the most interesting study of all would have been to first ask the straightforward questions, then ask the same test subjects the same questions after they were given the truth serum, to see what the difference was.

Yet another interesting twist would have been to have both black and white administrators ask about racial attitudes, to see how much the answers varied. And to note the degree of difference between black and white respondents with each type of administrator.

Instead, the researchers at Harvard resorted to a parlor game which relies on quick reversals in order to essentially trick people into being "racist."

Sylvia Terbeck, the lead author of the study, said, "Implicit 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 Propanolol for medical purposes, our findings are also of considerable ethical interest."

You've got to love Ms. Terbeck for trying to frame people's perceptions as an ethical issue, or better yet, an illness to be cured by a pill, as implied here.

One problem with the study was that all 36 test subjects were white males. (Isn't giving the test to only one race in order to accuse them of racism in itself racist?)

One has to wonder how black males would react if they were given the pill. After all, blacks do suffer from hypertension at a higher rate. Would they become less resentful? Would they stop automatically voting for the black candidate in every election? 

And how would women react? Or are they too above suspicion of committing the great thought crime of our time?

Well, at least now there's a pill we can take to cure it. What a wonderful, simple solution of such a complicated problem.

Too bad we can't just pop a pill which cures sociopathy. Or stupidity. Or a tendency to draw misleading conclusions from inane studies.

Maybe I should try Propanolol. I'm acquainted with the statistics on racial differences in IQ, homicide rates, and so on. And I'd certainly like to rid myself of all that unwanted information.

But I'm a little leery. With my blood pressure low, will I suddenly start to believe that all the races are on average equally intelligent, that there are no differences in criminality, and that most of the great scientific breakthroughs were achieved in sub-Saharan Africa?

It's actually a little surprising that the researchers limited themselves to Propanolol. Ecstasy evidently has a similar heart-opening, mind-altering effect. People who've taken it report that while under the influence you feel that everybody is your friend, and everybody is wonderful. It sounds like a very heady experience. I have to admit, I'm tempted.

If, after dropping Ecstasy, I'm still troubled by a nagging sense of realism, I suppose I can always try a little lysergic acid (LSD).