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Interracial interactions are cognitively demanding

HANOVER, N.H. A new Dartmouth study reveals that interracial contact has a profound impact on a person's attention and performance. The researchers found new evidence using brain imaging that white individuals attempt to control racial bias when exposed to black individuals, and that this act of suppressing bias exhausts mental resources.

Published in the online edition of Nature Neuroscience on Nov. 16, the study combines the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measures brain activity, with other behavioral tests common to research in social and cognitive psychology to determine how white individuals respond to black individuals.

"We were surprised to find that brain activity in response to faces of black individuals predicted how research participants performed on cognitive tasks after actual interracial interactions," says Jennifer Richeson, Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences, the lead author on the paper. "To my knowledge, this is the first study to use brain imaging data in tandem with more standard behavioral data to test a social psychological theory."

Their findings suggest that harboring racial bias, however unintentional, makes negotiating interracial interactions more cognitively demanding. Similar to the depletion of a muscle after intensive exercise, the data suggest that the demands of the interracial interaction result in reduced capacity to engage in subsequent cognitive tasks, say the researchers.

For the study, thirty white individuals were measured for racial bias, which involved a computer test to record the ease with which individuals associate white American and black American racial groups with positive and negative concepts. Racial bias is measured by a pattern in which individuals take longer to associate the white Americans with negative concepts and black Americans with positive concepts. The study participants then interacted with either a black or a white indiv
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Contact: Sue Knapp
Sue.Knapp@dartmouth.edu
603-646-3661
Dartmouth College
16-Nov-2003


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