A drug used to battle heart disease and anxiety might help treat bigots too.
British researchers at Oxford University said volunteers given the beta blocker drug propranolol scored lower on a test designed to measure prejudice at a subconscious level than those in a group given a placebo.
The U.K. Daily Telegraph reported propranolol is used to treat chest pains, lower heart rates, anxiety and panic. But researchers found more than a third of drugged volunteers notched a “negative” score when tested for "implicit racial bias,” an outcome that did not occur among those who were given the placebo.
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The test had asked volunteers to rate how “warm” they felt on a 10-point scale as pictures of black and white people flashed on a computer screen.
"The main finding of our study is that propranolol significantly reduced implicit but not explicit racial bias," the study’s scientists wrote in the journal Psychopharmacology.
Oxford philosophy professor and study co-author Julian Savulescu said his research raised the “tantalizing possibility” that drugs could be used to change unconscious racial attitudes.
But propranolol could not cure racism outright, he said. He added that “biological research aiming to make people morally better has a dark history.”
Outside expert Dr. Chris Chambers, from the University of Cardiff's School of Psychology, said the results should not be judged with anything other than “extreme caution,” the Telegraph reported.
"We don't know whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally,” he said. "And we can't rule out the possibility that the effects were due to the drug incidentally reducing heart rate.”