Brain Research on Race & Empathy

Racial bias in neural response to others’ pain is reduced with other-race contactScreen Shot 2016-04-04 at 4.36.37 PM

Editor’s Note:  This study by university researchers from Santiago, Chile and Queensland, Australia examined how a person’s racial bias affects the neural responses in areas of the brains associated with empathy. Similar to results in other studies, subjects were found to have greater neural responses related to empathy when shown photos of same-race people subjected to pain than they did when shown photos of other-race people subjected to pain.  

However, and more importantly, the study also found that this changes over time as a person has more contact and experience with other-race people.

Crucially, activation in the anterior cingulate to pain in other races increased significantly with the level of contact participants reported with people of the other race. Importantly, this correlation did not depend on the closeness of contact or personal relationships, but simply on the overall level of experience with people of the other race in their every-day environment. Racial bias in neural responses to others’ pain, as a neural marker of empathy, therefore changes with experience in new immigrants at least within 5 years of arrival in the new society and, crucially, depends on the level of contact with people of the other race in every-day life contexts. Read more about the study.

Reflection:  

How might this information impact the work of educators? 

Considering the quote below, is reality-based empathy key to school reform efforts? Why or why not?

Reality based empathy is the foundation for all fundamental change.

—Dr. Bill Cloke, Contributor to “The Blog” —Huffington Post

Articles on related topics:

This Is When Racial Bias Begins To Impact A Child’s Empathy For Pain, Study
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The Dark Side of Empathy

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