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An fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function

Abstract

We investigated whether individual differences in racial bias among white participants predict the recruitment, and potential depletion, of executive attentional resources during contact with black individuals. White individuals completed an unobtrusive measure of racial bias, then interacted with a black individual, and finally completed an ostensibly unrelated Stroop color-naming test. In a separate functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session, subjects were presented with unfamiliar black male faces, and the activity of brain regions thought to be critical to executive control was assessed. We found that racial bias predicted activity in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) in response to black faces. Furthermore, activity in this region predicted Stroop interference after an actual interracial interaction, and it statistically mediated the relation between racial bias and Stroop interference. These results are consistent with a resource depletion account of the temporary executive dysfunction seen in racially biased individuals after interracial contact.

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Figure 1: Statistical activation map of black faces > white faces contrast, showing regions in right and left middle frontal gyri, as well as right anterior cingulate cortex.
Figure 2: Scatterplots of significant correlations between racial bias and neural activity.
Figure 3

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (grant 0132420) and by a Junior Faculty Fellowship from the Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth College, both awarded to J.R. We thank R. Hayman, N. Hornak and R. Brown for assistance with data collection, and N. Ambady, N. Macrae, J. Hull and B. Kelley for comments on previous versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Jennifer A Richeson.

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Richeson, J., Baird, A., Gordon, H. et al. An fMRI investigation of the impact of interracial contact on executive function. Nat Neurosci 6, 1323–1328 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1156

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