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Unusual as it might sound, a new study proves that there might be a cure for racist and sexist attitudes and the remedy is not at all one that has side effects to worry about. Apparently, sleep is the miraculous treatment for people who are biased from certain points of view.
There are many people who would never admit to being racist or sexist, but there have been many studies that proved that our bias is reflected in our actions. It was often shown that male applicants are more likely to be hired than their female counterparts. Sometimes they are also considered much more competent and stand a better chance to receive a higher salary.
A team of experts from at Northwestern University, Chicago determined that the participants who benefited from certain training during their sleep displayed fewer prejudicial attitudes afterwards. First they asked the participants to take an implicit association test (IAT). For example, people who were gender biased, would tend to associate women with art and men with science. They would take a longer time to associate female faces with words connected to science.
The test has been disputed in terms of its results, but it was shown that it was quite effective in proving certain attitudes that people have related to various things.
Afterwards, the experts attempted to reverse the racist attitudes by asking the people involved in the experiment to create associations that would counter the prejudices. The associations they made were imprinted in their memory by using a sound whenever the biased people took notice of the counterexamples. The next IAT revealed that the bias was not that strong after this exercise.
However, these effects did not last long, so the participants were asked to sleep. During their nap their brain activity was recorded while the sound from the intervention was played constantly. The role of the sound was to reactivate the recent experience and internalize it.
In this way, the brain was basically asked to consolidate those memories. The results were surprising, as they showed the people were able to preserve their newly found unbiased opinions.
Xiaoqing Hu, the lead author of the research said: “It is somewhat surprising that the sleep-based intervention could have an impact that was still apparent one week later.”
Even if much more further research needs to be done, the authors consider this a huge step forward and they believe their experiment could be used to unlearn other prejudices and biases. Moreover, people who have certain habits such as smoking, narcissism, various types of phobias could be helped to deal with them.
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