Just imagine if there was a cure for racism that could help people live together without prejudice and in harmony.
Researchers from Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Barcelona think they’ve come pretty close.
Their new study shows that by using illusion techniques, it is surprisingly easy to trick people into thinking they have a body part with a different skin colour than their own, or even a different body.
Manos Tsakiris, psychology professor at Royal Holloway thinks research also proves that inducing the illusion of so-called ‘body swapping’ reduces racial bias.
They tested the participants’ implicit prejudices before and after inducing the body swap illusion.
“We want to see people’s reaction when they see a body of a different skin colour. That gives us a good way of measuring their implicit racial bias. So we can measure how biased people are for or against black people, for example. The next step will be to induce the illusion that they have a different body, of a different skin colour, for example, so white participants starting believing they have a black skin colour and measure again at the end of the experiment whether this experience changes their implicit racial bias.”
The experiments work by providing a stimulus to the face or hand of a participant.
In the classic psychology experiment, the rubber hand illusion, researchers stroke a black rubber hand and a real hand with a paintbrush.
People taking part in the study report feeling as though the foreign body parts are their own.
Measuring implicit racial bias before and after the experiments shows a clear decline in racist attitudes.
Tsakiris says it could be possible to use the study’s techniques in the real world to change real behaviour.
“I think there is a real opportunity here because with the development of virtual reality technology and the increased accessibility in terms of cost, one good thing is that we can very easily adapt our approach for educational settings,” he added.
It’s not yet clear how long the effect lasts.
But as psychologists investigate how the experiments affect brain activity, they hope the multi-sensory ‘body swaps’ could become a practical weapon in the fight against racism.