Tuesday, April 05, 2016

It must be there, just unconscious

Princess Ojiaku wrote "The studies just keep coming. Unconscious racism is pervasive. It starts early. And it creates a deadly empathy gap" She cites study after study purporting to show a lack of empathy between races (but not, oddly enough between white and purple). It all sounds fairly interesting, until I hit
Some of the best evidence comes from Peking University, where scientists used fMRI to scan the brains of Chinese college students as they viewed images of Asian and Caucasian faces with either neutral or pained expressions. Before viewing the images, some students were primed with rapidly flashing statements specifically about death, such as ‘My body would rot after death’. Others were primed with negative statements unrelated to death, for instance, ‘The coming exam makes me uneasy’.

Later, researchers examining the data found that Asian students who were primed with thoughts of death had greater empathetic response to the pain of other Asian faces than to white faces in two specific regions of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the nearby mid-cingulate cortex, reflecting work that came before. The study, published in NeuroImage in 2015, documented the powerful impact that thinking about death, otherwise known as 'mortality salience’, has on the empathy gap between races, a chasm with obvious relevance to police on call.

If that strikes her as the best, in view of what's been learned about priming studies lately, I harbor deep doubts about the accuracy of the rest of the studies. And the further claim that tribal differences don't seem to matter just adds to my skepticism.

Does anybody know much about the methodology and reproducibility of these things?

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There is also the assumption that our initial reaction to a person must be our reaction forever.

We have initial responses hardwired into us. Those can be hacked somewhat. But even so, they can be overruled.