The 5 Weirdest Things That Can Cause You to Be More Racist
Although we'd like to live in a world populated by rational, caring human beings, we've all seen or done things that could be considered racist. From "Asians are bad drivers" to "white people can't dance," everybody has encountered one or two things that probably shouldn't have been said. As we've previously shown, though, there are all sorts of random factors in your environment and biology that bring out your inner asshole.
And sure enough, the science suggests that all manner of strange things trigger racist behavior. Things like ...
Being Told Not to Be Racist
The Internet has a very sad tradition it celebrates every February when, in honor of Black History Month, racists and/or stupid people take to social media and ask when will they finally get White History Month. (Easy answer: We already have it. It's the other 11 months.) It's almost as if giving people a reminder not to be racist actually makes them more racist than they were before.
But if you think that's just another example of the Internet turning normal people into asshats, science says it goes deeper than that -- it turns out that ordering people to do everything from "love thy neighbor" to not posting racial comments on Facebook might actually just make those problems worse.
"They've never seen anyone like me before. I am edgy and against the grain, baby."
They did an experiment on this at the University of Toronto Scarborough, where they split subjects into three groups. One group was given an "autonomy brochure," which just stressed the positive effects of not being prejudiced, a second was given no brochure at all, and a third was given a brochure that explicitly ordered them not to be prejudiced.
You can guess how that went if you've spent any time around, well, the general public. When they tested each group on how prejudiced they were, presumably by throwing a minority in front of them and yelling "Quick, call him a name!" the researchers found that the group with the "do what you want" pamphlet was less prejudiced than the group with no pamphlet. And yes, for the third group, being told to be politically correct actually made them more prejudiced than being told nothing at all.
"You syrup-swilling Swedish poodle shaver."
Cracked's all about handing out tips for success, so here's a free one: People aren't really that keen on feeling like they don't have freedom of choice. When they feel this way, they actually become more inclined to resent the people you're trying to protect, seeing them as the source of their problems.
Because above all, we just don't like being told what to do. Even if the thing we're being told makes perfect sense, like "Don't be mean to oppressed minorities," that's enough to make us feel like we're the oppressed minority. When is "I just like to be a dick" month?
Of all the functions of the female body, ovulation is quickly becoming one of the weirdest to search for on Cracked. We've already discussed some of the stranger side effects of ovulation (it helps women sense the presence of snakes!), but, ladies, did you know that ovulation is also turning you into a racist?
Researchers from Michigan State University asked women to categorize black and white faces as either "mental" (i.e., "smart like Bill Gates") or "physical" (i.e., "an idiot who compensates for it with large arms"). They followed that by asking them to categorize the faces as either "good" or "bad." Researchers found that fertile white women tended to be more prejudiced against members of other races that they viewed as physically imposing. To put it in simpler terms, if the ovaries owned a cafe in the 1950s, they just put a sign in the window saying "whites only."
"I will acquire pancaaaaaaakes!"
The study suggested that this links back to a "psychological stem" from more uncivilized times when a woman had to be on the lookout for invaders during her fertile times, lest she be accosted and become the unwilling carrier of said marauder's seed. Wait, what if the invaders are also white? Are women's reproductive systems OK with being invaded by Nazis? Man, some of our evolutionary adaptations are just gross.
"Hey, buddy, shave that shit off so I know whether or not to hate you."
And this isn't the only bizarre case of our racial moods shifting with body chemistry ...
Too Much Oxytocin (The "Love Hormone")
Oxytocin is a hormone that bonds humans together. It is most commonly associated with feelings of love and intimacy -- for instance, oxytocin is released when you give someone a hug or pet a dog. It stimulates feelings of love between a mother and child, as well as feelings of intimacy between sexual partners. It is the warmth you feel in the bottom of your gut toward other human beings, and it just makes everyone happier in general.
Or so we thought, until scientists at the University of Amsterdam realized that oxytocin is also really good at turning us into racists.
"Sorry, my mom hugged me this morning."
They devised a moral test using, essentially, versions of the "trolley problem," mixing them in with mundane questions like "Would you prefer coffee or a milkshake?" The trolley problem, for those of you who didn't click the link, can essentially be distilled down to one question: Would you sacrifice the life of one person to save many others? For instance, would you throw an innocent man in front of a train if you knew it would stop the train from killing five other innocent people farther down the track? The experiment was run with two groups. In one group, the person to be sacrificed had a Dutch name. In the other, foreign names like "Mohammed" were used. Before the experiment began, the men had to sniff either a dose of oxytocin or a placebo.
While others got straight cocaine. Their racism just got faster.
As you might have guessed, being under the influence of this love hormone made it harder for the subjects to sacrifice somebody. Even if it meant five other people would die, the emotional bond to the person they were going to kill made it harder for them ... but only if the sacrificial lamb was of the same race.
On the other hand, even under the influence of the love hormone, subjects were disturbingly at ease when it came to sacrificing foreigners. So oxytocin did boost feelings of love; it's just that those feelings were limited strictly to a person's own group. And it's not that it made them hate outsiders. It's just that if they perceived that the situation was "us vs. them," well, a stronger feeling of love toward "us" is bad news for "them." That ... actually explains a lot, if you think about it.
"Fuck your hugs, Mom! If I turn out to be an asshole, it'll be on merit and not chemically induced!"
And so does this next one ...
Being Old (but Not for the Reason You Think)
The "cranky racist old person" is almost a stereotype at this point. And when Grandpa says something grossly inappropriate at Thanksgiving, the defense others offer is always the same: "He's from a different time."
But science says Grandpa's fondness for shouting racial slurs at televised basketball games isn't necessarily due to having grown up in pre-segregation America. He may be suffering from a condition called shrinky-brain.
Or as the elderly call it, "Duuuuuuhhhh."
OK, the name of the condition is one we just made up, but the phenomenon is very real. According to a paper from the University of Queensland in Australia, when people age, their brains begin to atrophy, the gray matter shriveling up like your junk on a cold day (or, if you're a woman, like your boyfriend's junk on a cold day). Some important areas that suffer from atrophy are the frontal lobes.
The frontal lobes are the "good angel" on your shoulder, and they regulate and inhibit impulses and thoughts you know aren't good for you. They're the part of the brain that says stuff like "Hey, I know you want to kick that snotty little kid right in the face, but please refrain from doing so. People are watching."
"Use your fists. They do more precise damage."
The paper showed that elderly people whose frontal lobes had atrophied were literally unable to regulate their thoughts. For example, elderly people were asked questions designed to test inhibition (i.e., whether they could stop their initial responses to questions). When the elderly were asked, "What color are a tiger's spots?" they were more likely to answer "black" than to inhibit their initial response and actually think about what the question was asking (tigers have stripes, not spots).
They know the right answer, but the ability to stop the knee-jerk reaction just isn't there. The paper suggests that the inability to inhibit responses also applies to racism and other socially unacceptable behavior. So while being old doesn't cause racism, it makes it more difficult to suppress or stop vocalizing racist thoughts. Whereas the rest of us might have the thoughts, but we've gotten really good at burying them deep down.
Well, this won't be controversial.
Deciding to bite off a shitload to see if they could chew it, researchers Deborah L. Hall, David C. Matz, and Wendy Wood took to the task of collecting and analyzing 55 different studies from the years 1964 to 2000 on the topics of religion and racism. What they found, across these studies on more than 20,000 participants, was that there is a strong link between membership in a church (the examples in this case happened to be white Christians) and racism.
"You seem a little on the tan side, cameraman. How about we take this next one outside?"
The conclusion was not that the religion itself taught anyone to be racist (admonitions against it are pretty clear), but that it had more to do with being a member of a tight-knit group that was bound by a belief that they were more moral than those outside the group. As we saw in the oxytocin example above, humans are funny that way -- loving our own group more tends to cast everyone outside of it into shadow. And, unfortunately, people overwhelmingly tend to worship with members of their own race.
The study also showed that "People who were religious because of their respect for tradition and social convention were especially likely to be racist." In other words, their belief that their group was superior wasn't just about biblical dogma, but about a "traditional" way of behaving -- that is, like white Christians. It starts with "Don't trust those guys, they believe in a different god," but spreads to "Don't trust those guys, they talk different, dress different, and listen to different music."
"Of course you can join in. You can hold the book for us!"
But it was all about the group, and not so much the beliefs -- there actually wasn't a difference between hardcore fundamentalists and moderates when it came to racism. It was more about the trap we fall into when declaring our group to be the best -- something that is hardly exclusive to churches. It's just that it's easier when you're in a group that you literally think God has declared to be supreme. The preacher could sit them all down and command them to stop being racist, but, well, we already told you how that goes.
For more advanced psychology from Cracked.com, check out 6 Weird Things That Influence Bad Behavior More Than Laws and 6 'Wuss' Behaviors That Were Once Badass Survival Instincts.