An fMRI Investigation of Racial Paralysis

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race, prejudice, inhibition, choice

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We explore the existence and underlying neural mechanism of a new norm endorsed by both black and white Americans for managing interracial interactions: “racial paralysis’, the tendency to opt out of decisions involving members of different races. We show that people are more willing to make choices—such as who is more intelligent, or who is more polite—between two white individuals (same-race decisions) than between a white and a black individual (cross-race decisions), a tendency which was evident more when judgments involved traits related to black stereotypes. We use functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the mechanisms underlying racial paralysis, to examine the mechanisms underlying racial paralysis, revealing greater recruitment of brain regions implicated in socially appropriate behavior (ventromedial prefrontal cortex), conflict detection (anterior cingulate cortex), deliberative processing (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex), and inhibition (ventrolateral prefrontal cortex). We also discuss the impact of racial paralysis on the quality of interracial relations.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, v. 8, issue 4, p 387–393.