University College London neuroscientist Hugo Spiers gathered 22 volunteers and scanned their brains while they were told about two fictitious groups of people – the Kitils and the Pellums.
The two main groups were secretly assigned as ‘good’ (Pellums) and ‘bad’ (Kitils) and two thirds of the information provided to the participants fit that stereotype and one third did not.
Examples were ‘a member of Kitil kicked a cat’ and ‘a member of Pellum gave their mum a bunch of flowers’.
Brain scans revealed that activity in the anterior temporal pole matched the growing prejudice they felt towards a certain group.
According to Spiers, this model can be used to track prejudice ‘mathematically second by second’.
The brain, the scans found, also did not react equally to positive and negative information.
The negative groups become treated as more and more negative. Worse than the equivalent for the positive groups.
Spiers also made a point about his research in the context of Islamophobia, and said:
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.
Well, doesn't that sound familiar...?