Our brains accept easier negative stereotypes

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Bryan Jones/Flickr

At least that’s what says a new study from the University College London. The study found that our brains have stronger reactions to negative news about certain groups of people – when people different than us are portraited negatively.

“The newspapers are filled with ghastly things people do … You’re getting all these news stories and the negative ones stand out. When you look at Islam, for example, there’s so many more negative stories than positive ones and that will build up over time”, said Hugo Spiers, a lead neuroscientist from the study.

The research also discovered that when a member of a group that is portraited unfavorably in the media does a good thing, something positive, we are more likely to be surprised.

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The study followed 22 participants as they were shown some information about two fictitious groups. The phrases varied from “a member of KItkils kicked a stray cat” to a “a member of the Pellums gave their mother a bouquet of flowers”. The volunteers were designed “good” and “bad”, the phrases shown being two thirds a stereotype and the rest banal.

The researches then scanned the brains of the participants and observed the changes. The results were nothing but surprising. The scans showed that the brains of the volunteers light up in a region known as the anterior temporal pole when they got information that fit the stereotypes they believed to be true. The scans also showed that our brain responds differently to bad and good news.

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If once we hear more and more good news about a group, we are more likely to forgive them easily when they make a mistake. On the other hand, when a group has repeatedly had negative incidents, one good event doesn’t change how our brains perceive them.
Spiers believes it is more difficult to reverse negative stereotypes. And while some stereotypes are indeed negative, we cannot navigate into this crowded world without classifying people according to certain traits.