Psychological Self-Help

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of course, that procedure became unethical because no one knew how to get
rid of that particular fear response).
Such an experiment is hard to forget. And now over 40 years later a
somewhat similar experiment appears in the literature about prejudice.
Olsson, Ebert, Banaji, and Phelps (2005) studied the learning of fears
between Blacks and Whites as well as the resistance of those fears to
extinction. The 2005 procedure: The experimenters presented each
participant with facial pictures of two ordinary black men and two ordinary
white men. Half of the participants were white and half were black. During the
fear acquisition stage of the experiment, each participant was shown one
black and one white face paired several times with mild electric shock. The
other black and the other white face shown the participant were not paired
with shock at any time. Then, during the extinction phase all four pictures of
faces were presented without being paired with additional shock. During both
the acquisition and extinction phases, the level of fear was measured by skin
conductance responses.
The results: there was a conditioned fear response to both ingroup (same
race) and outgroup (different race) faces during acquisition when shock was
administered. However, during the extinction phase when pictures were
presented several times without shock, only the conditioned fear
responses to outgroup faces resisted extinction. In other words, white
participants had developed a fear response to both black and white faces
paired with shock but only their conditioned fear response to black faces
(outgroup) continued in spite of no shock being given. Likewise, black
participants responded the same way—a fear response was conditioned to
both black and white faces but only the fear response to a white face resisted
Finally, given that the experimenters could now identify participants who were
more able to extinguish their conditioned fear responses and participants who
were less able to do so, they set about looking for the racial attitudes, beliefs,
stereotypes, and experiences that characterized those two groups. These
experimenters found only one factor that distinguished between the groups:
interracial dating! Specifically they correlated each participant’s reduction of
fear via extinction with their number of outgroup romantic partners divided by
the number of ingroup romantic partners they reported having. If this
outcome surprises you, remember there is a history of research showing that
positive social contact between the races tends to reduce prejudice. In this
study (done in New York City), more of the black participants (51%) reported
interracial dating experiences than the white participants (28%). The
implications of this small study are tentative but interesting. The findings
suggest that our efforts at integration over the last 40 years could have been
more effective if we had taken a more positive attitude towards inter-racial
intimacy or, at least, supported close, caring, trusting and meaningful
relationships. On the other hand, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum (2003), a black
developmental psychologist, believes that the black students hanging
together in school is healthy and important for racial identity. Much, much
more research and discussion are needed.
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