Bravely sharing his own struggles, Randy Revelle advocated for the mentally ill Op-Ed We wanted to see what would happen in the insula, an area of the brain activated when people feel disgusted. Overall, viewing interracial couples increased insula activation — participants showed more activation when looking at interracial couples than same-race couples. Although the insula is not exclusively linked to disgust, taken with the results of our first study, these findings suggest that people feel increased disgust when viewing interracial couples.
Our final study looked at the ramifications of feeling disgusted by interracial couples. Research shows that feeling disgusted by others often leads us to dehumanize them. So we wondered whether disgust about interracial couples might lead people to dehumanize them.
We recruited another predominantly white sample of college students and divided them into two groups. One was induced to experience disgust through being shown a series of disgusting images — which was expected to make them more likely to dehumanize interracial couples.
The other group was used as a control. Next, we had participants complete an implicit association test. Such tests are used to gauge unconscious associations by asking people to make split-second categorizations.
We asked participants to quickly categorize images of interracial couples, same-race couples, silhouettes of humans and silhouettes of animals. We predicted that when interracial couples and animals were categorized together, the participants who were primed to feel disgusted would do the task faster.
Instead, we found that all participants completed the task faster when interracial couples and animals were categorized using the same button indicating implicit dehumanization. However, participants who were primed to feel disgusted were able to do it the fastest. Interracial couples still elicit disgust in many people, which can translate into dehumanization.
These biases evidence deeply ingrained societal attitudes about race in our culture — but there is a new and growing field of research on methods to reduce these biases. Although our research cannot speak directly to the consequences of dehumanizing interracial couples, the implications are startling. Dehumanizing people eliminates the burden of empathizing with them. And at its most extreme, dehumanization can lead to acts of violence and cruelty — like the stabbing this summer in Olympia.