Huxtables on the Brain: An fMRI Study of Race and Norm Violation



While a substantial body of work has been devoted to understanding the role of negative stereotypes in racial attitudes, far less is known about how we deal with contradictions of those stereotypes. This article uses functional brain imaging with contextually rich visual stimuli to explore the neural mechanisms that are involved in cognition about social norms and race. We present evidence that racial stereotypes are more about the stereotypes than about race per se. Amygdala activity (correlated with negative racial attitudes in other studies) appeared driven by norm violation, rather than race. Similarly, a pattern of deactivation in the medial prefrontal cortex (previously associated with the dehumanizing of social outcasts) was connected to norm violation, not race.