ROME — An Italian psychologist has proposed modifying people’s unconscious prejudices and stereotypes by subjecting parts of the brain to electric and magnetic impulses.
Over the past 20 years, researchers have attempted to alter people’s ethnic and racial stereotypes and prejudices by providing information that counteracts the prejudice, writes Maddalena Marini, yet these interventions, while effective to some extent, have produced only limited results, especially regarding duration.
A postdoctoral researcher at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), Marini says that these stereotypes are so instilled in the human mind that “the only way to change them is to change the biological mechanisms of the brain responsible for generating and controlling these stereotypes.”
To accomplish this, Marini proposes the use of “non-invasive brain stimulation techniques,” which “modulate the mechanisms through which the brain regulates our behavior” by introducing transcranial electric or magnetic currents.
Studies have allowed us to define a network of brain regions causally involved in these processes, showing that “by increasing or decreasing the activity of some of these areas it is possible to reduce the strength of unconscious stereotypes,” she writes, like “the prejudice that leads to associating acts of terrorism with being of Arab origin.”
Before joining IIT, Marini was a postdoctoral associate at Harvard University (from 2012 to 2017), and she delivered a TEDx talk on eliminating gender bias in Genoa, Italy, this year.
Scientific research “has shown that our mind contains stereotypes and prejudices that are linked to the different social characteristics of individuals, such as, for example, ethnicity, skin color, weight, gender, age, sexual, political, or religious orientation, disability and physical or mental illness,” she asserts.
Although modern society is populated by individuals belonging to different cultures, “our mind still reflects the traces of an evolutionary inheritance where human beings lived in small groups composed of individuals with similar genetic and social characteristics, bringing us still to prefer people who are socially and culturally ‘similar to us’ over those who ‘differ from us.’”
Marini does not state whether she believes that the treatment against prejudice and stereotypes should be strictly voluntary or mandatory in some cases. She does suggest that individuals are incapable of eradicating their prejudices — or even recognizing them — by themselves.
“Equality is a fundamental right of every citizen and a duty of our society,” she declares. “Equal opportunities are not only an indispensable feature of a democratic society, but also a crucial foundation for a nation’s innovation, economy and general well-being.”