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Study: Teaching liberals about white privilege reveals 'startling' blind spot

Psychologists looked at how liberals and conservatives react after learning about "white privilege".

West Virginia men. 2018. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
  • Psychologists looked at how liberals and conservatives viewed poor people after learning about "white privilege".
  • Conservatives didn't show much sympathy for poor people regardless of race.
  • Liberals seemed to blame poor white people for their problems.

Is there a blind spot in the sympathies of liberals? A recent study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, looked at what happened when "social liberals" were educated about "white privilege". While they did become more aware of the benefits being white might afford in society, the liberal-minded also exhibited less sympathy for poor white people.

Polls show that liberals are generally more focused on race and racism as being a bigger social problem than conservatives. To gauge whether other issues like the poverty of whites is perceived as less important, the team of researchers carried out two studies.

The participants included 650 liberals and conservatives from all over the U.S. for an online study. 68.8% of the subjects were white and 16% were black.

The researchers randomly split the participants into two cohorts. One was read about white privilege and was asked to identify some examples of privileges enjoyed by white people in the U.S. For example, "White people are never asked to speak for all people of their racial group". The other group received no such instruction.

Participants were then read passages about a poor white man or a poor Black man. He was identified by name (Kevin), his location (NYC), and the facts that he was raised by a single mom and lived in poverty all his life. Now he was supposedly on welfare. The only difference in the biographical information was whether he was black or white.

What the scientists found was that liberals who learned about white privilege were more sympathetic to Kevin if he was described as being Black (rather than white). Conservatives, on the other hand, were found to express low levels of sympathy for poor people, no matter what race they were. It also didn't matter to them if they read about white privilege prior to that.

In a finding that the study's author and psychology professor Erin Cooley of Colgate University called "startling" in her article for Vice, being educated in white privilege didn't grow the sympathy for poor black people among the liberals. Rather they blamed poor white people for their poverty, as if they could have done better considering all the privileges they supposedly received because of their race.

Professor Cooley, who describes herself as a liberal, thinks the assumptions behind such thinking leaves the poor white people neglected because they are "violating stereotypes of their race (i.e., that white people are wealthy)" and this "may present its own complexities to how white people feel subjectively and how they are treated when they are poor."

Why “I’m not racist” is only half the story

Cooley points out that despite the fact that their studies highlight the complexities among how Americans of all persuasions feel about race and class, teaching about white privilege is extremely important. According to the professor, such information highlights persistent societal racism like police brutality. It is also important, says Cooley, to take a more "intersectional lens" towards talking about privilege. Privilege can come from numerous factors – class, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation etc. As such, "most of us have experienced both privilege and marginalization at some point," she points out.

You can read the study, very descriptively titled "Complex Intersections of Race and Class: Among Social Liberals, Learning About White Privilege Reduces Sympathy, Increases Blame, and Decreases External Attributions for White People Struggling With Poverty," here.

The research was carried out by the psychologists Erin Cooley and William Cipolli III of Colgate University, as well as Ryan F. Lei from New York University, and Jazmin L. Brown-Iannuzzi of the University of Kentucky.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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