October 16, 2005

Dartmouth Prof Shows Why Racism Makes You Stupid(er)

Dartmouth's very own Jennifer Richeson, a professor in the Psychology and Brain Sciences department and part of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience has just released a report that comes to a startling point:

Racial prejudice actually ties your brain's concentration capacity up so that a person becomes less able to perform common cognitive tasks.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
According to the findings, the more biased people are, the more their brain power is taxed by contact with someone of another race, as they struggle not to say or do anything offensive. The effect is so strong, the team found, that even a five-minute conversation with a black person left some of the white subjects unable to perform well on a test of cognitive ability.
Here are the details of the project itself:
Richeson and her colleagues began by recruiting a group of white Dartmouth undergraduates and asked them to perform an "Implicit Association Test," a test that is widely used to measure unconscious racial bias. The subject is given a screen and two buttons. First, the subject is asked to push the button on the left if the word that appears on the screen is a positive word, like beauty, or a common first name for a white person, such as Nancy. Otherwise, they are instructed to push the button on the right.

After a session, the test is changed slightly, and the names given are those more common for a black person, such as Tyrone. The greater the difference between the reaction times in the two sessions, the more the person has trouble associating black names with positive concepts.

Next, the team had each of the students speak briefly with a black experimenter and then perform a test of cognitive ability called the Stroop test. They showed that the higher a bias score the student had in the IAT test, the worse they did on the Stroop test after speaking with the black experimenter.
Here's more coverage.

Dr. Richeson has previously done interesting work about "ethnic clumping" at Dartmouth.

Also of note: the departing Dr. Michael Gazzaniga was recently lauded for his work on technology and ethics by the World Technology Network.


  1. Anonymous10:06 PM

    Isn't Richeson also moving elsewhere?

  2. I certainly hope not. It sounds like she's a rising star, though if she worked in CCN with Gazzaniga, he might be taking him with her or she might be fed up too.

  3. She's moving (or has moved) to Northwestern.