Elizabeth A. Phelps
Pershing Square Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, Harvard University
November 6, 2018
Investigations of the neural systems mediating the processing of social groups defined by race, specifically Black and White race groups in American participants, reveals significant overlap with brain mechanisms involved in emotion. This talk will provide an overview of research on the neuroscience or race and emotion, focusing on implicit race attitudes. Implicit race attitudes are expressed without conscious effort and control, and contrast with explicit, conscious attitudes. In spite of sharp decline in the expression of explicit, negative attitudes towards outgroup race members over the last half century, negative implicit attitudes persist, even in the face of strong egalitarian goals and beliefs. Early research demonstrated that implicit, but not explicit, negative attitudes towards outgroup race members correlate with blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal in the amygdala – a region implicated in threat representations, as well as emotion’s influence on cognition. Building on this initial finding, we demonstrate how learning and decisions may be modulated by implicit race attitudes and involve neural systems mediating emotion, learning and choice. Finally, we draw on recent research on emotion regulation to suggest potential means to diminish the unintentional expression of negative, implicit race attitudes.