Sunday, January 20, 2013

Can scientists use brain scans to detect whether you are a racist?

The academic article summarized below (journal abstract also appended) is one of a series going back a long way  which purport to measure "unconscious" racist attitudes.  The tests concerned (such as the IAT) do actually fool some people, as people who are vigorously ANTI-racist do sometimes score high on them -- indicating that they are secretly racist. Such results do however call the validity of the test into question.  Does the test measure what it purports to measure?

There are various alternative possibilities for what the IAT  measures but it seems most parsimonious to say that those who are not fooled by the test are actually showing that race is more SALIENT to them rather than that they secretly hold racist attitudes.  And race might be salient for a number or reasons -- ranging from your being mugged last night to you being involved in civil liberties campaigns.  So the conclusions below are probably mistaken

The findings below do fit well with an explanation in terms of minority salience and could even be held as confirmation of the salience hypothesis -- JR

Brain scans could soon be used to detect whether or not people are racist, scientists say.

Researchers found that brain scans were able to pick up on differences in the way that people with implicit negative racial attitudes viewed black and white faces.

Racial stereotypes have previously been shown to have subtle and unintended consequences on how we treat members of different race groups.

But the new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, shows race biases also increase differences in the brain's representations of faces.

Psychologists Tobias Brosch of the University of Geneva in Switzerland and Eyal Bar-David and Elizabeth Phelps of New York University examined activity in the brain while participants looked at pictures of White and Black faces.

Afterwards, participants performed a task that assessed their unconscious or implicit expression of race attitudes.

By examining patterns of brain activity in the fusiform face area — a brain area involved in face perception — the researchers were able to predict the race of the person that the participant was viewing, but only for those participants with stronger, negative implicit race attitudes.

This, the researchers said, implies that people with stronger, negative implicit race attitudes may actually perceive black and white faces to look more different than others who held no such prejudice.

The scientists claimed that perception of race is shaped by prejudices that we already hold - and that racism runs deeper than we think.

Dr Brosch said that 'these results suggest it may be possible to predict differences in implicit race bias at the individual level using brain data.'

However, Dr Phelps said further work would be needed before the technique could reliably detect whether people really were racists.  'Although these findings may be of interest given the behavioural and societal implications of race bias, our ability to predict race bias based on brain data is relatively modest at this time,' she said.

The new study further deepens the scientific understanding of the processes in the brain that lie behind the racist attitudes that some people hold.

Previous research by Dr Phelps has claimed that racism could be 'hard wired' into the brain, since the neural circuits which allow people to recognise ethnic groups overlap with others that drive emotional decisions.

Because of that, the researchers claimed, it's possible that even people who believe themselves to be egalitarian could harbour racist attitudes without knowing.

The findings published last summer in the journal Nature Neuroscience could lead to fresh ways of thinking about unintended race-based attitudes and decisions.

Dr Phelps and colleagues reviewed previous brain scanning studies showing how social categories of race are processed, evaluated and incorporated in decision-making.

They showed a network of brain regions called the the amygdala, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex are important in the unintentional, implicit expression of racial attitudes.

The researchers said the brain areas themselves - as well as the functional connectivity among them - are critical for this processing.

Implicit Race Bias Decreases the Similarity of Neural Representations of Black and White Faces

Tobias Brosch et al.


Implicit race bias has been shown to affect decisions and behaviors. It may also change perceptual experience by increasing perceived differences between social groups. We investigated how this phenomenon may be expressed at the neural level by testing whether the distributed blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) patterns representing Black and White faces are more dissimilar in participants with higher implicit race bias. We used multivoxel pattern analysis to predict the race of faces participants were viewing. We successfully predicted the race of the faces on the basis of BOLD activation patterns in early occipital visual cortex, occipital face area, and fusiform face area (FFA). Whereas BOLD activation patterns in early visual regions, likely reflecting different perceptual features, allowed successful prediction for all participants, successful prediction on the basis of BOLD activation patterns in FFA, a high-level face-processing region, was restricted to participants with high pro-White bias. These findings suggest that stronger implicit pro-White bias decreases the similarity of neural representations of Black and White faces.

Review article for the literature concerned here.   More on the IAT here


Wake Up, Socially Liberal Fiscal Conservatives

Jonah Goldberg

Dear Socially Liberal Fiscal Conservative Friend,

That's pretty toothy, so I'm going to call you Bob.

But whatever specific name you go by, Bob, you know who you are. You're the sort of person who says to his conservative friends or co-workers something like, "I would totally vote for Republicans if they could just give up on these crazy social issues."

When you explain your votes for Barack Obama, you talk about how Republicans used to be much more moderate and focused on important things such as low taxes, fiscal discipline and balanced budgets.

When Colin Powell was on "Meet the Press" the other day, you nodded along as he lamented how the GOP has lost its way since the days when it was all about fiscal responsibility.

And, Bob, you think Republicans are acting crazy-pants on the debt ceiling. You don't really follow all of the details, but you can just tell that the GOP is being "extreme," thanks to those wacky tea partiers.

So, Bob, as a "fiscal conservative," what was so outrageous about trying to cut pork -- Fisheries in Alaska! Massive subsidies for Amtrak! -- From the Sandy disaster-relief bill? What was so nuts about looking for offsets to pay for it?

Bob, I'm going to be straight with you. I never had much respect for your political acumen before, but you're a sucker.

You're still spouting this nonsense about being fiscally conservative while insisting the GOP is the problem. You buy into media's anti-Republican hysteria no matter what the facts are. Heck, you even believe it when Obama suggests he's like an Eisenhower Republican.

Well, let's talk about Eisenhower, your kind of Republican. Did you know that in his famous farewell address he warned about the debt? "We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage," he said. "We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow."

Bob, we are that insolvent phantom, you feckless, gormless clod. The year Eisenhower delivered that speech, U.S. debt was roughly half our GDP. But that was when we were still paying off WWII (not to mention things like the Marshall Plan), and the defense budget comprised more than half the U.S. budget (today it's a fifth and falling). Now, the debt is bigger than our GDP. Gross Domestic Product is barely $15 trillion. The national debt is over $16 trillion and climbing -- fast. The country isn't going broke Bob, it is broke.

When George W. Bush added nearly $5 trillion in national debt in two terms you were scandalized. When Obama added more than that in one term, you yawned. When, in 2006, then-Sen. Obama condemned Bush's failure of leadership and vowed to vote against raising the debt ceiling, you thought him a statesman. Obama, who wants to borrow trillions more, now admits that was purely a "political vote."

Yet when Republicans actually have the courage of Obama's own convictions you condemn them.

You nodded sagely when Obama said we needed a "balanced approach" to cut the deficit. He said he couldn't rein in entitlements without also raising taxes on "millionaires and billionaires." Well, he won that fight. We raised taxes on millionaires and billionaires exactly as much as he wanted. We also raised the payroll tax on everyone.

Obama's response to getting the tax hikes he wanted? He says we still need a "balanced approach" -- i.e., even more tax hikes.

Anyone who calls himself a fiscal conservative understands we have a spending problem. Do the math. A two-earner couple that retired in 2011 after making $89,000 per year will pay about $114,000 into Medicare over their lifetimes but will receive $355,000. When will it dawn on you that Obama doesn't think we have a spending problem? I ask because when he said "we don't have a spending problem," it seemed to have no effect on you.

And yet you still think Paul Ryan's budget was "extreme." Do you know when it balanced the budget? 2040. What's a non-extreme date to balance the budget, Bob? 2113?

Look, Bob, I don't want to go spelunking in that cranium of yours. I don't know why you think you're a fiscal conservative. The simple fact is you're not. The green-eye-shaded Republicans you claim to miss would be scandalized by the mess we're in, largely thanks to voters like you, Bob. Eisenhower would take a flamethrower to today's Washington.

I don't expect you to vote Republican, never mind admit you're simply a liberal. But please stop preening about your fiscal conservatism particularly as you condemn the GOP for not being fiscal conservatives, even when they are the only fiscal conservatives in town.



A Legal Immigrant and Patriot

Lincoln Brown

On my show this morning, I’ll be talking to a young man in Germany named Marc.  He has tried unsuccessfully to enter this country through the front door and has met with red tape and delays each time. I’ll be talking with him today about his fundraising efforts and his attempt to become one of us.

No DREAM act will benefit Marc. He won’t be eligible for a driving privileges card; he will not receive any welfare or in-state tuition. After all, the election is over and Obama got all the votes he needed. Marc is working for his citizenship because he believes it is worth earning.

He has carefully watched the American media and has studied our history and its documents. He has a love of this country that easily rivals that any patriotic American I have ever met. The man chokes up when he speaks of becoming a US citizen. He wants nothing more in the entire world and will labor as long as he must to become an American.

A part of me wants to warn him off, to try to steer him away from our country the way emergency crews blockade the scene of a toxic spill. But he is determined to become an American, even though he knows what a morass this country has become.

And so a part of me wants welcome another newly minted American to this struggle. In the days to come, we will need all the patriots we can find no matter the country of origin.

Witness the President in essence speaking ex cathedra on the issue of the Second Amendment and quislings in the media such as Bob Schieffer parroting the party line, although in Schieffer’s case he has passed the line of “biased” and gone straight to full blown Left-Wing derangement by invoking Osama Bin Laden and Nazis in this Administrations’ opposition to guns. The venerable old newsman might be interested in what the group Anonymous has to say about Obama and gun control. Executive orders or not, when Anonymous compares you to Hitler, you are definitely losing the spin war.

Witness the President issuing a Proclamation on Religious Freedom on Wednesday, while he sends Kathleen Sebelius to battle that very freedom in the courts, while atheist groups continually wage war on those who dare to practice their faith outside of church walls.

Witness the Democrats who have ignored the issue of the debt ceiling or in some cases have even called for it to be abandoned altogether, and even some conservative lawmakers think a short-term hike might be in order to better advance the cause of spending cuts in future discussions. Have we ever lowered the debt ceiling? When was the last time we balanced the budget? No really, someone write me and tell me when we last had a balanced budget. This of course comes amid revelations that you and I have coughed up 4 billion dollars to foreign companies for green energy with no jobs generated here, and a DOE announcement that it will spend up to 10 million of your simoleans to in its words: “to help unlock the potential of biofuels made from algae." And in the interim, democrat leaders and environmentalists alike decry the idea of exporting our surplus natural gas.

Examine your own paycheck to see what the Fiscal Cliff bill did for you. Even the Obamaphone lady is admitting that she was duped by the administration on that one.

Scan the offerings on your cable and satellite boxes or your local movie theaters and ask yourself if these people have your values in mind or your best interests at heart.

Witness our leaders who see to divide us along class and race.

Witness the increasing violence on our streets, most of it occurring without the use of firearms.

Witness our failing schools that cater to unions while leaving our students just this side of illiterate.

I want to warn Marc about these things, but then again, we need patriots like Marc. I need patriots like Marc.

You see, my grandson who will be three this spring had outpatient surgery today. He had his adenoids removed and tubes put in his ears. And I had to wonder if under an Independent Payment Advisory Board if he would have been approved for that procedure.

In a few months, my grandson will get a little sister. And my granddaughter shows signs right now of being a special needs child. And this president who surrounded himself with children to herald his hypocritical and sanctimonious gun measures; and his supporters would casually see her butchered in the name of reproductive freedom just as Margaret Sanger would have seen her butchered for being a special needs child.

I need patriots like Marc. My grandchildren need patriots like Marc. And you need patriots like Marc.




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