Do beta blockers help against racism?
Some beta blockers are said to reduce xenophobia and promote tolerance towards strangers. Hard to believe, but the result of a highly scientific study by researchers from the Center for Neuroethics at Oxford University. Usually, the drugs are prescribed for heart disease. When the test subjects received beta blockers with the active ingredient propranolol, their racial prejudices also decreased. However, the study structure with only 36 cardiac patients as subjects was rather limited. Nevertheless, research should continue.
The scientists led by Professor Julian Savulescu from Oxford University have investigated the effects of the active ingredient propranolol on the subliminal thinking and behavior in 36 white subjects. They found that the anti-hypertensive drugs also brought a reduction in racist tendencies among the patients. Given the spread of xenophobia and racism, this is an interesting discovery.
Test detects subliminal racism and xenophobia
The informative value of the current study is relatively limited due to the small number of participants, but the result is surprising. The 36 volunteers were divided into two groups, one group receiving placebo supplements and the other the beta blocker propranolol. Two hours after ingestion, the test subjects had to complete a standardized test in which 140 images and questions were used to determine subliminal racist behavior. For example, the study participants should assign terms such as “friendly”, “bad”, “happy” or “sad” to the images shown.
If dark-skinned or black people were seen, the test subjects in the control group were able to achieve a positive opinion much more slowly than the test subjects from the propranolol group, according to the results of Professor Julian Savulescu and colleagues. According to the researchers, a third of the propranolol patients no longer saw any racist tendencies at all, while in the placebo group all participants had subliminally xenophobic and racist traits.
Beta blocker treatment for high blood pressure, heart disease and racism?
The beta blocker propranolol has been known for decades and is mainly used in the treatment of high blood pressure. Coronary artery disease, cardiac insufficiency or tremor disorders are also more often treated in conventional medicine with appropriate beta blockers. The researchers at the Center for Neuroethics at Oxford University have now shown another area of application for beta blockers: the treatment of subconscious racism.
The current "results provide new clues about the processes in the brain that are responsible for the emergence of racist thoughts," explained the German researcher at the Center for Neuroethics, Sylvia Terbeck. The study leader, Professor Julian Savulescu, added that the current research results promise "promising opportunities" in which subconscious "racism with the help of pills" could be changed. But propranolol is "not a miracle pill to cure people of racism. For ethical reasons, it must be considered how to deal with this possibility, ”emphasized Savulescu.
Beta blockers for more tolerance?
The researchers at Oxford University explain the observed effect with the beta-blockers' hypotensive and resting heart rate-reducing effects. This would make the test subjects less anxious, which would contribute to an increased tolerance. So far, however, the researchers have not been able to provide a more precise explanation for the observed reduction in racism by beta blockers. (sb, fp)