Spoiler:British researchers found that a common heart disease drug lowers more than blood pressure - it lowers racist attitudes as well.
Researchers at Oxford University say that volunteers who took small doses of the beta blocker propranolol scored lower on tests used to detect "subconscious" racism than volunteers who took a dummy pill, London's The Telegraph reported.
Propranolol is used to reduce blood pressure, and can also manage panic and anxiety disorders.
In the study, a group of 18 white students were given 20 mg doses of the drug before taking a test to gauge prejudice attitudes, while another group was given a placebo.
In one part of the test, volunteers were asked to sort pictures of black and white faces into categories along with positive and negative words, such as "happy" and "sad."
In another segment, the test-takers were asked to report how "warm" they felt toward certain groups, including black people and Muslims.
Results showed the group that took propranolol showed lower "implicit" racist feelings, meaning they appeared less racist on a subconscious level.
For example, during the sorting section, results showed that the drug-takers were quicker to associate the pictures of black faces with positive words, the results showed.
Scientists said they believed the drug lowered feelings of bias because it works on parts of the brain and nervous system that regulate fear and emotional responses, the Telegraph reported.
"Such research raises the tantalizing possibility that our unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs, a possibility that requires careful ethical analysis," the study's co-author Professor Julian Savulescu said.
But Dr. Chris Chambers, of the University of Cardiff's School of Psychology, told the Telegraph the results should be viewed with "extreme caution."
"We don't know whether the drug influenced racial attitudes only or whether it altered implicit brain systems more generally," he said.
"So although interesting, in my view these preliminary results are a long way from suggesting that propranolol specifically influences racial attitudes."
1) Science journalism is bad, especially its tendency to draw sensational conclusions for headlines.
2) Propranolol was originally used as a beta blocker (blood pressure reducer) but it has a lot of unpleasant side effects and nowadays is rarely prescribed for high blood pressure because there are better beta blockers with less side effects. Propranolol is more commonly prescribed for anxiety, headaches, and tremors.
3) Propranolol works by directly blocking the body's ability to absorb and use adrenaline (hence beta blocker)
So this is still really interesting because it sounds like the opposite of the "suspension bridge effect" where feelings of anxiety from an adrenaline rush, such as from being scared by a rickety rope bridge or a rollercoaster, are interpreted as anxiety from romantic attraction to whoever is with you. That suggests to me that at least some racist feelings might be caused by an adrenaline rush from contact with an unfamiliar person.