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Interracial marriage less accepted than people claim

People are not as accepting of marriages between people of different races as many claim to be, new research suggests.

Between 1980 and 2010 the number of interracial marriages doubled in the United States and they now make up 15 per cent of all marriages. In a 2012 Pew Research poll only 11 per cent of participants said they disapproved of such unions.

However Allison Skinner, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington, thought that opinion polls on the subject “weren’t telling the whole story”. To test this idea, she and a team of researchers invited college students to take part in a series of experiments.

The first was a simple survey. More than 150 participants were asked questions about their attitudes towards interracial relationships and how willing they would be to have one themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found high levels of acceptance in the answers given.

Secondly, 19 students were shown images of weddings and engagements while their brain activity was monitored. They were then asked whether the couples in the images should be included in further studies about marriage and relationships. These questions were designed to make the participants evaluate each couple socially.

In this test researchers noted the activity in the ‘insula’ when people discussed interracial couples. The insula is the part of the brain associated with feelings and perception of disgust. So while people may consciously say they are fine with such relationships, many still have very negative feelings towards them. For many of the participants, “viewing images of interracial couples evokes disgust at a neural level” Skinner explained.

Extraordinarily, another test of more than 200 students revealed that they more readily associated interracial couples with images of animal silhouettes. By contrast, participants associated same race relationships with images of human silhouettes. Researchers said the implication was that they were quicker to dehumanise people in a relationship with someone from a different race.

The study seems to suggest that many people are “still not comfortable with interracial relationships” despite what they may say publicly, Skinner concluded. Admitting these biases exist is “the first step to figuring out why people feel that way and determining what can be done so they won’t”.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. D says:

    This study has massive ethical issues that were discussed in the recent BBC Radio 4 programme Mind Reading. There are ethical issues in using such a study to extract non-volunteered information. Particularly in the case of “think about these pictures in ” and then deriving information not relating to that context/question from the mind state of the participant. This is regardless of how well-meaning the experimental aim is. I suppose if you’re not uniquely identifying the participant you might dodge these issues.

  2. Luke says:

    I think there is a difference between accepting something and wanting to promote it – for instance I am totally accepting of 2 guys canoodling in the street.
    I don’t find it pleasant to look at but I would fight against it being stopped – besides it cuts down the competition 🙂
    With regard to interracial couples, it would be absolutely ridiculous and wrong for anybody to want to stop it – but does the fact that the white race and culture will probably be largely wiped out in the UK in the long term fill me with happiness? No.

  3. Andrew says:

    “determining what can be done so they won’t.
    We’re not talking about race discrimination in employment or housing. We’re talking about people’s private opinions.
    Back off, Dr Sknner. No thoughtcrime here or anywhere else, please.

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