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Discrimination happens faster when money is scarce, according to several studies from Cornell University.
“Scarcity mindsets can really exacerbate discrimination,” Amy Krosch, assistant professor of psychology at Cornell and lead author, said in a statement.
“We show that tiny shifts in the processing of minority group faces under scarcity could have downstream consequences for inequality.”
In one experiment 71 undergraduate psychology students — none of whom identified as Black — were asked to examine pictures of white and Black male faces and told to award each one money, based on “subtle perceptions of recipients’ deservingness.”
Researchers measured the time each participant took to analyze the faces, a subconscious process that normally takes about 170 milliseconds.
A control group was told $10 was the maximum a face could receive. In this group, subjects took the same amount of time to process all the faces and distributed money evenly.
In the experimental group, participants thought they had to give away $10 each time out of a total of $100, creating a sense of economic scarcity. Here, participants took “significantly longer” to process Black faces.
“It’s taking them longer to see a Black face as a face, and the extent to which that’s happening then predicts how much they discriminate against that Black individual,” Krosch said.
The team followed up with a second experiment to determine why the experiment group demonstrated delayed visual processing.
Scans showed “dampened activity in the striatum,” a region of the brain associated with valuation and rewards. The dampened activity manifested in the form of discrimination.
“This isn’t about being pro-white; it’s really about being anti-Black when resources are scarce,” Krosch said.
“The scarcity doesn’t even have to be real.”
Krosch’s latest study on the subject, titled “Scarcity Disrupts the Neural Encoding of Black Faces: A Socioperceptual Pathway to Discrimination,” is published in the November issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.