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Friday 28th October 2016

Blood pressure drug could combat racism

8th March 2012

A drug commonly used to reduce high blood pressure by lowering the heart rate has been found by researchers to have an unusual side effect.


The team from Oxford University have suggested in a new study published in the journal Psychopharmacology that the beta-blocker drug propranolol can also reduce “subconscious” racism.

They discovered that people who took propranolol scored significantly lower on a standard test used to detect subconscious racial attitudes, than those who took a placebo.

As well as managing angina and irregular heartbeat, the drug is also used to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety and control migraine and is thought to work by blocking activation of areas of the brain which formulate emotional responses.

The Oxford scientists have suggested that propranolol reduces racial bias because such subconscious thoughts are triggered by that automatic nervous system.

The study covering 36 white students saw half given a single 40mg dose of propranolol and half a placebo and asked them all to undertake the Implicit Association Test to test subtle and spontaneous biased behaviour.

Lead author Sylvia Terbeck said: “Our results offer new evidence about the processes in the brain that shape implicit racial bias. Implicit racial bias can occur even in people with a sincere belief in equality.”

The study’s co-author Professor Julian Savulescu, of the university's Faculty of Philosophy said the research raised the tantalising possibility that people’s "unconscious racial attitudes could be modulated using drugs".

But he said that this was a possibility that required careful ethical analysis.


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