Exercising the cingulate cortex is only the start. The Brown University study is a new entry in an increasingly fertile field of science about how we can alter the brain’s responses to try and rewire, shift, and disable implicit biases, preventing racist responses and creating a more racially harmonious world. Glass-half-full thinking? Maybe, but as we’ll see, the science behind it is solid, if complex.
A study in 2015 showed that implicit bias, both racial and sexual, can be targeted in another way: through sleep training. Participants were given “counter-bias training,” where faces were shown with non-stereotypical words beside them (black faces, for instance, had positive words like “sunshine”) while certain distinctive sounds played. When those sounds were played again, at an unobtrusive volume, during the participants’ afternoon naps, they showed that the effects stuck: they associated the positive words with the pictures more readily. This sort of approach is gaining increasing popularity; the Washington Post reported in August that the Justice Department is attempting to instal implicit bias training across multiple levels in response to evidence of racial prejudice in the nation’s police force (though some people are a bit skeptical about whether it will work).
There are other methods, but they haven’t necessarily met with great success. One much-hyped idea was to artificially increase empathy,making people sympathize with those of other races through stories or movies; but The Atlantic reported in July that researchers had found these measures didn’t have great success, with one notable exception. If white participants were read stories in which they were being attacked by a vicious white person and saved by a valiant, heroic black person, their implicit bias scores plummeted; but without the vicious white villain, the story had little to no effect.