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Proof that bigotry and stupidity are linked

by T. Feran Saturday, Dec. 13, 2003 at 7:44 PM
tferan@plaind.com (216) 999-5433

A new study by a multiracial group of Dartmouth College researchers (published in the journal Nature Neuroscience) has found that bias toward people of another race, or people who are "different," can drain mental function and make people dumber.



Proof that bigotry can drain the brain

The Plain Dealer, December 12, 2003

You don't have to be stupid to be a bigot. But being bigoted will get you there faster. We now have actual proof of this connection. There has never been any lack of evidence demonstrating it.

Earlier this year, for example, as the United States was about to start bombing Iraq, a man in Geauga County rammed a Sheriff's Department car with his truck, causing ,200 in damage. When he called the Sheriff's Department the next day to confess, he said he had become angry when he saw a deputy chatting with a man of Middle Eastern descent.

And he told them he had been "stupid."

Sen. Trent Lott said he made "a poor choice of words" a year ago, when he crowed that America "wouldn't have had these problems over all these years" if Strom Thurmond had been elected president, in 1948, on a Dixiecrat platform built on opposition to civil rights for black people. But even Lott's fans and fellow conservatives said his choice of words was worse than poor.

"What Lott said is utterly indefensible and stupid," Rush Limbaugh said. Various other commentators described Lott's comments as "pretty darn," "extraordinarily," "remarkably," "unbelievably," "incredibly," "almost inconceivably," "rather" and "just plain" stupid.

Rapper Eminem apologized last month for some racist lyrics he wrote in 1988. He said they were "foolishness" written when he was a "stupid kid."

Only last week, North Carolina congressman Cass Ballenger announced he will not seek re-election, and was sued for defamation by the country's largest Islamic civil liberties group, after saying the group's offices were full of women "wearing hoods," or headscarves, and were so close to the Capitol that "they could blow the place up."

Ballenger is the fellow who stirred up controversy a year ago for refusing to remove a black-faced lawn jockey statue from the front yard of his home, and for saying that then-congresswoman Cynthia McKinney had brought out "a little bit of a segregationist feeling" in him because "I mean, she was such a bitch."

He later apologized for what he called "pretty stupid remarks."

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now we know why.

A new study has found that bias toward people of another race, or people who are "different," can drain mental function and make people dumber.

The study was published in the December issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, by a multiracial group of Dartmouth College researchers. They used behavorial tests, which measure mental performance, and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which measures brain activity, to determine how white individuals respond to black individuals.

In brief, the researchers gave white subjects a test designed to measure subtle bias. Then they gave them tests of cognitive performance, after meetings with a black researcher and then a white one. Several weeks later, they gave the test subjects supposedly unrelated MRIs, while showing them images of black and white young people.

The conclusions: People who scored higher on the test of bias had a harder time, after an interracial encounter, with the mental performance test. And "racial bias predicted activity in the right dorsolateral prefontal cortex," a part of the brain linked to control of thoughts and behavior.

The researchers stressed they're not suggesting that brain scans can measure prejudice.

They also said that people who scored higher for "bias" may not be prejudiced, just unfamiliar and uncomfortable with people who are different.

But the effort to overcome their awkwardness may be taxing enough to leave them temporarily impaired or exhausted, unable to perform to their best mental capacity, "just as people get tired after lifting weights." The results, researchers said, suggest that racial bias can be bad for mental performance in an increasingly diverse society.

Going a step further, however, the study offers good news for people apologizing for things they've said or done. We no longer have to take it at their word if they claim they were "stupid."

Now they can prove it.
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laughing out loud more rational Saturday, Dec. 13, 2003 at 10:24 PM

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