We have all been unfairly judged in our life, and let’s not pretend we haven’t made uninformed judgements ourselves. Although we know that prejudice doesn’t match our personality we still tend to have some negative thoughts or feelings toward people because of their nationality, religion, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics. It is because prejudice can be non-conscious and automatic. Neuroscientists sought to find out why people tend to feel implicit prejudice and some research showed what happens in the brains of people when they encounter a person who doesn’t belong to their group:
The Amygdala is responsible for emotions and is best known for its role in fear and the recognition of threat. For example if you were taking a walk in the forest and you suddenly saw a bear, your amygdala would be activated, helping you prepare your body for the fight or flight response. Neuroimaging studies showed that amygdala is activated in the same way when we see an outsider (e.g. white people looking at images of black faces).
The Insula is related to decisions and feelings about the “other group” versus the “in group”. This area is also correlated with empathy and it is activated when people are being harmed, but only if they are part of the in-group or the liked group, but not one of the “others”.
Evolutionary psychologists posit that we have implicit prejudice in order to avoid threats and to protect ourselves. However, in spite of the fact that implicit prejudice is hardwired in our brain, it doesn’t mean that we need to make these implicit thoughts into prejudicial behavior.
– Inesa Lelyte is a Bachelor of Psychology student at Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania. She is interested in the areas of neuropsychology and neuro-cognitive psychology. Inesa is an intern at Willingness.com.mt.