Human brain is predisposed to negative stereotypes

3rd Nov 2016

A new study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience suggests that the human brain is predisposed to learn negative rather than positive stereotypes.

The study found that the brain responded more strongly to information about groups who were portrayed unfavourably. 

Previous studies in this area have identified brain areas involved in gender or racial stereotyping, but this new research is the first attempt to investigate how the brain learns to link undesirable traits to certain groups, and how this is converted to prejudice over time.

The participants were given snippets of information about fictitious social groups. The two main groups were secretly designated 'good' and 'bad', with two-thirds of the information fitting the group stereotype. Brain scans were taken as the participants built up their views of the social groups. By measuring brain activity it was possible to determine a person's current level of bias.

The scans revealed that the brain did not respond equally to good and bad information. Once the participants had seen enough snippets to feel reassured that a group were 'good', the brain activity quickly dropped off. However, brain activity for the 'bad' group continued to show strong responses to each negative snippet about their behaviour. 

The scans also revealed activity in the brain's prefrontal cortex when the participants were given information that went against the stereotype. Again, the response was stronger for a 'bad' group member to do something good. 

Future research in this area is to be on whether negative stereotypes are more difficult to reverse, and to possibly uncover differences in brain structure that ex[plain why some people hold racist or sexist views. 

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