Kimberly Papillon

Kimberly Papillon
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Executive Director
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Kimberly is an attorney who has lectured nationwide on the neuroscience of decision-making, the law and bias. More information can be found at TheBetterMind.com.

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Editor’s Pick
MARCH 23, 2012 7:09PM

Neuroscience and the Killing of Trayvon Martin

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People have viewed Trayvon Martin’s story through the lens of history, sociology and the law.  But the lens of neuroscience may give us the greatest insight into this story and so many others.  

Numerous neuroscience studies confirm that when we feel fear, threat or anxiety, small nodes in our brain called amygdala activate.  Scientists have tested for this using a brain scanning process called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or fMRI.  These nodes activate at a high level when we see spiders and snakes, but they can also activate when we see anything or anyone we believe to be threatening.  Brain scan studies show that the amygdala activates more when a Caucasian person is viewing an African American male face than when viewing a Caucasian male face. Further studies show that amygdala activate even more when viewing a person with darker as opposed to lighter skin.  It’s difficult to digest, but when looking at an African American man (or teenager) walking down the street, a Caucasian person’s amygdala may activate more than when seeing a Caucasian man walk down the same street.   

Zimmerman said in his 911 call that Trayvon “looks like he is up to no good” or that “he’s on drugs or something” and he said Trayvon, “looks Black.”  Zimmerman saw Trayvon as threatening though he displayed no threatening behavior.  Trayvon did not have to act threatening because to Zimmerman, the threat lived solely in the color of his skin.  His face, not his hoodie, created a reaction and a presumption that he was “up to no good.”  It is possible that Zimmerman’s reaction was so strong that Trayvon’s efforts to appear as non-threatening as possible would not have sufficed.  Perhaps Trayvon would not have been able to convince Zimmerman that he belonged in the neighborhood, was simply carrying skittles and seeking to hurt no one.  Amadou Diallo in New York, Professor Henry Louis Gates in Boston, Oscar Grant in Oakland and countless others were equally unable to convince their shooters that they did not pose a threat.  A professorship at Harvard did not mitigate the threat for Dr. Gates and lying face down while handcuffed did not mitigate the threat for Oscar Grant; and walking in a gated community holding skittles and an iced tea did not mitigate the threat for Trayvon.

The level of amygdala, or fear center, activation in the brain will be higher among those who have a higher level of unconscious or implicit bias towards African Americans - bias that they even may not be aware of).  One of the most reliable measures of unconscious or implicit bias is the Implicit Association Test or IAT, which can be taken online.  If a person’s level of implicit racial bias is higher as seen on the IAT, then the level of amygdala or fear center activation in the brain when viewing an African American male is higher as well.  So amygdala activation levels match implicit racial bias levels.  This is problematic because over 70% (and in some studies over 87%) of the Caucasian population shows implicit bias against African Americans on the IAT.  Remember this is unconscious racial bias, bias that the holder may not know they have.

The view from neuroscience is even more disturbing when we consider the amygdala’s role in human aggression.  The amygdala is where aggression is initiated in the brain.  If someone is motivated to act aggressively because they see a threat, then racial bias will likely increase this effect.  As a result, someone can see an African American man, decide that they are a threat because they are African American, and then become overly aggressive toward the African American man—and it all happens in the unseen realm of the brain.

But Zimmerman is not the only actor in this process. The minds (or the brains) of the police as they gazed upon Trayvon’s bloodied body are also at issue. If we believe the reports from neighborhood witnesses, it seems that even in the very moment when the police should have felt the greatest empathy for 17 year old Trayvon, they instead circled the wagons to protect Zimmerman by justifying his actions and dismissing any legal culpability that supported his arrest.  The lack of empathy for Trayvon can be seen in the allegations that police failed to take witness statements, coached Zimmerman so that his statements would fit within the “stand your ground” law, filed false reports, and held Trayvon’s body for three days without contacting his parents.

Why didn’t the empathy arise?  Studies show that we can have a strong physiological reaction to other people’s pain.  A reaction called sensory motor contagion or pain empathy occurs when we see someone who we care about being injured.  Just closing our eyes and imaging the injury can create this physical reaction in our bodies.  In one study they simply showed a group of people three videos of three different hands being poked with a hypodermic needle.  One hand appeared to be a Caucasian person’s, another appeared to be a person of African descent and the third was purple.  As people watched each video the scientists measured the level of sensory motor contagion or physiological pain empathy. As Caucasian people watched the Caucasian hand being poked they felt a high level of pain empathy.  As they watched the purple hand being poked they felt a small amount of pain empathy.  But as they watched the Black hand being poked they felt no pain empathy. 

It is possible that the police literally looked at Trayvon as he bled and felt nothing.  At the same time it is possible that they looked at Zimmerman and felt empathy for his tenuous legal situation.

We can write Zimmerman off as simply a sociopath who set out to hunt Trayvon Martin – an outlier.  Certainly most people do not hunt down young men with nine-millimeter firearms.  However, we must recognize that implicit bias is widespread.  So widespread that thousands of young black men have been presumed to be criminals, up to no good, or threatening.  Their innocent behavior or minor infractions can be viewed as profound affronts.  They are not all shot, but they can be more frequently disciplined, suspended and expelled from school, relegated to juvenile halls, jails and prisons, not hired, quickly fired or simply forced to watch as people cross to the other side of the street, lock their car doors or grab their purses when they walk by.

There are literally hundreds of neuroscience studies that bear out the biased reactions we have in our brains and how they affect everyday life. The killing of Trayvon Martin is profoundly senseless and no stack of scientific studies will make it make sense.  But we can look through the lens of neuroscience to increase understanding and to find meaningful solutions.

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wow, where did you come from? welcome. ps I just read today that obama said that trayvon "looked like his own son would have" or some other equally remarkable quote.
there is also a lot of evolutionary psychology theory in support of shades of racism. basically preserving intra group integrity vs extra group threat.
your bottom line is excellent, this deserves EP. however, there is a subtle issue. just because we are finding solid neuroscience-based mechanisms for subtle behaviors/thinking biases such as racism, it does not really excuse that. it is quite possible even likely that people can condition their own amygdala based on the way they live & interact. in other words we have found neurological correlates but they are still subject to laws of morality overall. peoples behavior is not to be explained like rats in a laboratory experiment. unfortunately much of the studies just focus on measuring the amygdala, but it would be more interesting to show how to condition it in more positive directions. yes amygdala is core in the "fight or flight" response which is closely connected to racism. I think the real key research is how to figure out engaging the rationality-based neocortex as much as possible in modern society when there are many factors that work against that. (eg television, advertising etcetera)....
@vzn You are absolutely correct that the neuroscientific information does not serve as an excuse - just an explanation. Sound explanations hopefully lead to sound solutions. In fact the level of bias may affect not only the level of amygdala activation, but also whether or not neocortex is involved before the amygdala activates. High levels of learned fear can make the brain take a shortcut, skip the neocortex (that weeds out extraneous information and takes in subtleties) and quickly conclude that a threat is present.
The learned fear does need to be self-taught. We get images and information (often skewed) everyday (through media, schools and countless other sources) that form and reinforce our biases.
It is time to use the science to address the problem, don't you agree?

Thank for your comments!
 Thank you for this perspective.

 This might also interest you. See Trayvon Martin: Defense a Pig-Sty Beneath a Racist Facade?

All quite interesting but I am not sure what to do with it all. How does it help address the problem?
It's "deep-seated," not "deep-seeded."
Then we remove Zimmerman's amygdala because he obviously is not in control of his urges. Frankly, it does not matter what his amygdala is doing. It's his brain, and I'm certain Trayvor's amygdala was striking out too, and he is dead.
Welcome to OS,
Read your post in detail with great interest. Can't remember where, probably Psychology Toady or some thing like that, I read an article about similar early studies of fear and prejudice. One study came up with data that was very revealing: the most profound fear and distrust reactions (measured with somatic as well as subjective cognitive response) to the threatening images of black and Hispanic males between 15 and 40, came not from Caucasians, but from black and Hispanic women between the ages of 25-50.
This surprised the researchers and implies that prejudice and fear may have roots in cultural and empirical experience.
It's not totally surprising that these attitudes can be detected and measured, given the level of sophistication of MRIs. Of course, these results are the product of interpretation, and we may find out later that they mean something other than what we think they mean. The obvious question to me, when someone talks about measuring brainwaves and correlating to behavior, is what do you do with that information? I remember some longitudinal research on early traits of kids who grew up to have criminal records--impulsiveness, low physiological responses. The question was raised then, do you use that to somehow manage the threat they may pose to society? The answer (at least, when we used to be a democracy) is that you can't actually *do* anything about these folks until they commit a crime. Such tests are too invasive to even be used to identify people who could benefit from interventions. These tests might be useful in a research setting, if they were done before and after various types of training or experiences intended to reduce racism and increase empathy. That might be a way to evaluate what works to change attitudes at an unconscious level.

I gotta say, me too, on the "deep-seeded." It's a kind of folk etymology, I get why people think that's what how it's spelled, but it does grate.
Kimberly - The brain science may be there. But you state as fact that " Zimmerman saw Trayvon as threatening though he displayed no threatening behavior. "

Can you back this fact up with evidence? Well I guess it becomes confusing. First there would be what we all might consider a threat. How do you know that did not happen?

As for the brain chemistry, lets keep science to science.
If you want to assert that the threat was in Zimmerman.s mind by definition, you would need a baseline for his brain reactions prior to the incident and essentially an instant one done that night to compare. Then and only then could you prove anything. Lets say we score from 1 to 100. Lets say Z's baseline is 40 as a result of just viewing a black mans face.
Someone else's baseline might be 30 or 50. Lets even coincide that a person's baseline score represents the cultural baseline fear you describe. Well how do we know that Z's reaction that night wasn't 100? Meaning he was much more scared than his baseline cultural fear. We don't and never will.

It does not matter what CAN be determined with an MRI. It matters what HAS been determined.

Your article reads good. But does not pass basic scientific method. I am not disagreeing with the research. I am saying there are no measurements for Z to even talk about.
No one knows.
vzn - Yes, Obama said he would look like his son. This may be about the most racist and biased a statement anyone has said so far. Our pres. is basically fostering racism. And again determining guilt of a potential criminal like he did once before. Remember?
@jmac1949 Thank you for your comment. The most recent information does not bear out the notion that African American and Latino women show the highest level of fear toward men of color, quite the contrary. The neuroscience studies show that amygdala activation correlates to bias towards African Americans as shown in IAT results. Importantly, IAT results among African American and Latino women do not show significant difference with their male counterparts. African women and men are the only groups that break down evenly for in-group bias. In other words, one third of African Americans show no bias towards either African Americans or Caucasians on the IAT. One third of African Americans show bias towards Caucasians, and one third show bias towards African Americans – an even three-way split. (That is in sharp contrast to the 70% to 87.1 % of Caucasians that show bias towards African Americans on the IAT). It is important to note that this is not a contest to see which group is more biased. Instead, this is a new way of viewing the problem, to define where to place the focus and resources to affect change. Identifying where the biases lie and how they manifest will help us to better analyze the problem. Perhaps if we add this to the analysis of the problem we can create even better solutions.
You make some good points. However, George Zimmerman is not white.
Fear may be innate, but the good news is that the triggers are learned---and can be unlearned.

Here's a quick experiment you can do for yourself to demonstrate how malleable even your reflexive reactions can be. Take the online implicit association test for racial prejudice now. Follow the directions as closely and carefully as you can. Note your result and come back to this comment. It'll be here when you check back.

(Pause while you take the IAT.)

If you are white (and sadly maybe even if you are not), you likely got a result saying that you have some level of preference for white faces over black.

Now, take it again, and once again follow the rules explicitly, faithfully and seriously. Answer every association as fast as you can, just as you did before. However, this time, imagine that you are casting director for a film like "Mississippi Masala" or "In the Heat of the Night," or "To Kill a Mockingbird"--any film you liked that presented African Americans in a favorable light.

I had done that before, and I did it again right before I wrote this post--to make sure I wasn't lying to you. You can make rapid improvement in your reflexive prejudice.

As chance would have it, earlier this evening I attended a lecture by Van Jones. He alluded to race a bit, of course, but his talk was mostly about the green economy, democracy, and his new book. (Great lecture; I cannot wait to read the book.) Perhaps with that positive experience fresh in my memory, when I just now took the IAT while imagining that I was casting director for "To Kill a Mockingbird," I scored a strong preference for African Americans."

There's lots of hope, here, folks, if we all work together to be conscious about our fellow citizens, help our fearful neighbors calm down, and promote positive interactions whenever we can.
A bit off your immediate topic, but if you are interested in neuroscience I am wondering if you are familiar with the work of Bessel van der Kolk and others about the role of the amygdala in storing traumatic memories, believed to contast with conventional storing, processing, and integration of normal memories. There seems to evidence this has to do with re-experiencing events as opposed to reliving them ("flashbacks") and the difficulty in getting past traumati c events. Very interesting work is being done in this area.
Great Article!
Do you have links to the abstracts concerning amygdala activation under fMRI?
Just to throw a bit of clarification out there, the amygdala, there are two, function as a neuromodulator in concert with other "higher" regions, and in fact is part of what a lay-person would call, the "lizard brain," or limbic system. Most importantly the amygdala operates with what many researchers have determined to be one of the main centers of memory instantiation, the hippocampus, again there are two regions defined as such in stereo. What is fascinating about the amygdalae is that they are one of the few anatomical features of the brain that connect directly to sensory organs and do not pass through the main connective feature.
What does this mean? Well for starters one can see the importance of this with regards to flight or fight base reactions, of course this plays an incredibly strong role with regards to food poisoning and foul orders, which thousands of years ago was perhaps more important than today; however, I digress. As another commenter had asserted, this would be difficult to ascertain due to the intervening neo-cortical functions in addition to the key to all psychology research, individual differences. I would assert that if one was to have the capability to gain access to the two actors in this scenario it is quite possible that Mr. Martin’s amygdala may have been in a greater state of activation in that the more basic flight or fight response was potentially greater than in the limbic mind of this perpetrator of this deadly act who was, again with the futuristic brain scan device, was deploying a template response, which indeed would call upon the amygdale, but also would require “higher” brain functioning. Mr. Martin was attempting to survive an interaction with a strange adult carrying a gun.
Due to the apparent modulator function of the amygdala with regards to more basic fear, phobias and anxieties, it had long been suspected to play a role in prejudice, in group/ out group social conflict studies and numerous other behaviors, however this anatomical feature is further broken down into smaller regions in addition to the various cascades of neurotransmitters that are activated by amygdala etc. Again, as I had mentioned, the amygdalae are involved with taste and smell, which is a massive field of study for obvious reasons; eating the green meat out on the savanna was often a poor choice for gene survival.
Hence, I would perhaps refrain from crafting the implication that the amygdala is the holy grail of understanding racial bias and or that IAT is the ultimate tool for determining racial bias. There have been other methodologies with similar testing batteries. The one that comes to mind, of course because I was highly interested in it as an undergrad over a decade ago, would be Social Dominance Theory/Social Dominance Orientation, which essentially purported similar findings, however overtime they were found to not be as statistically valid as desired for the theory to truly become widely accepted; look for Sidanius and Pratto.
I think that as the information about this seriously troubling story makes its way to the press, as with regards to today’s leak concerning “eye-witness accounts” is that, well, we will see the mass culture heuristic that “eye-witnesses” are the best way of determining what really happened, but as has been shown time and time again, ala Elizabeth Loftus’ studies, that it is highly dubious. This potentially will be of greater consequence to the final outcome of this horrifying scenario in Florida. One can only hope an arrest is forthcoming so the nation can start the healing process and the family of Mr. Martin can receive justice.
Welcome to OS..Excellent,informative writing.Rated with welcomes and best regards.
excellent raises the question that vexes the law v. psycholofy/neuroscience conflict r.
Trying to keep this simple. We know that when being threatened we tend to either fight or flee. Most of our fear comes from perception: prejudice based on previous experience or teachings. Now along comes this case. Complicated. Race is in issue. Neighborhood watch..another element. Two young men...too much 'T'
New evidence is coming forward that Zimmerman may have been threatened by Martin who felt threatened that Zimmerman may have called the police. Could this have been an old fashioned "pissing contest" that got entirely out of control? Is it possible that Zimmerman does have a defense? Had he been attacked by Martin?
We might have to peel back our hoods a bit...and re-examine in the light of day.
Terrific article Kimberly, and welcome to Open Salon. An Editor's Pick your very first time out, very impressive, you should be proud.

As a speechwriter whose first job is always to know ones audience, I've always been fascinated by more than just "what" people think but also why they think the way they do. This goes for movements and political parties as well. As I have said before: How a party thinks is more important than what it thinks.

There seems to be a growing number of books out now looking at political opinion as a function of neuroscience and psychology. Perhaps its because misinformation and the successful manufacturing of falsehoods -- especially on the right -- has now reached such critical mass.

George Lakoff has a lot of good stuff on this. And I am reading a good one now: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science -- and Reality," by Chris Mooney.

The Enlightenment idea that we are rational creatures comes in for a heavy beating, but it does help explain why debates (and angry disagreements more likely) between liberals and conservatives, in families and out, are so frustrating and so frequently fruitless. It is because we lack a common language when most of what we believe is rooted in emotion deep in our sub-concscience rather than the product of reason, logic and evidence.

Again, congratulations.
Well I guess Hispanic men have the same reaction, according to your story. This is not a white on black killing, this is a killing in Florida; I'll take all of this lemming hysteria more seriously when we rock with grief every time a girl is raped and killed [daily in America], a jewish child is murdered, etc. Another way to divide America. Before allowing all the facts to come out and for the police to do their work you have already decided who is guilty and who is innocent.
Oops. Here's a better link where you can take the Implicit Attitude test. The link I provided above, is still one click away from the test itself.

Try taking the IAT one time with no instructions other than those provided, note your racial preference, and then take it again still doing your best to answer as fast as you can, but while imagining that you are selecting actors for the cast of The Help or any other movie that portrays blacks favorably.

You will be surprised at the difference it makes when you consciously choose thoughts that engage a different set of subconscious reflexes.
Thank you for this rational and scientific approach to an extremely sad case and sensitive issue.

Zimmerman is a vigilante thug and needs to be arrested and hopefully convicted.

That said...... if I understand your analysis. The frightening visages of black gangstas or gangsta wannabees peering out of hoodies is triggering an innate fear in non-negroes.
Liken this to the hooded KKK that scare the shit out of me and I'm obviously white.
Snakes and spiders are harmless to humans left unto themselves. Yet my fearful vigilante wife will say "Kill It ". ! I prefer to shepherd even the errant housefly out the screen door.

Thousands of kids, white and black, emulate Rappers and gangstas that overtly present the pissed off scary look . If you don't live in or near the "Hood" go to Amazon Music and view images for Hip Hop and Rap music CD covers. Could it be they are aware and empowered, intentionally capitalizing on this fear? Or is it more of a defense mechanism? Whatever the case, there are obviously negative psycho social effects to this strategy. Especially so if the cops don't like it. My point... pull up your trousers... turn your cap around. The badass thug look is a looser in any society. With hatefull nuts out there like Zimmerman it can even get you killed. Not politically correct for Salon I suppose... just common sense.
I've read a ton of stuff about the Trayvon Martin killing, much of it very well done. But this is the most insightful piece I've seen so far. Thanks so much for shining light on a truly dark subject.
@Karen McKim You present a solution to implicit bias. You suggest that if we imagine positive images of African Americans such as Denzel Washington this will change our bias level as shown on the Implicit Association test. I believe you are honestly seeking a solution but I don’t think you will achieve the result you desire. While it has been shown that imagining positive African American images can temporarily reduce the level of implicit bias, it is also clear that we cannot hold the images of Denzel Washington or Bill Cosby in our minds throughout the day.
To understand the implications of implicit bias and the neuroscience behind it we must also understand the process of decision-making. Let’s take an example from the types of decisions we might make about one another. If you wish to hire someone for a position, you may tell yourself that while you view the resume of any African American or Latino candidate (assuming their name signals their ethnicity e.g. Jamal, Tyrone or Lakeisha Jackson or John Gonzalez) you will imagine Denzel Washington. This may reduce your implicit bias temporarily but it will likely impede you ability to remember and analyze the applicant’s qualifications. In other words, how can you be expected to concentrate on both Denzel and the task at hand?
But let’s assume that you successfully combed through the resumes and fairly assessed them all while thinking of Denzel– now it’s time for the interview. You want to fully engage each applicant in a conversation about their qualifications, their career goals and their outlook on work environments. Can you ask questions to address these issues, recall the answers, analyze the answers to present follow-up questions, and more, all while you maintain a mental image of Denzel? Probably not.
But let’s assume that you were able, somehow, to hire the applicant based on fair processes and reasoned analysis, while thinking of Denzel. Now, every time you interact with them, when they speak in a meeting, when they submit a report, when they make a mistake – will you simply think of Denzel until the possibility of a biased assessment of their behavior on the job goes away? Probably not.
The phenomenon of racial bias (and many other biases) and the multi-layered process of decision-making and information analysis will likely not be addressed by positive imagery.
Good people, intelligent people, caring people, want the scourge of racial bias to go away. But if we over-simplify the problem we will create an over-simplify solution, which is no solution at all.
Just a comment on the word usage. 'Bias' is prejudice for or against something so your usage of 'bias' really needs to have some directionality to it. There are several places where you use 'bias for African-Americans' where the meaning is ambiguous, when I think you mean 'bias against African-Americans.'
Thanks, Kimberly. Can our amygdalas ever be trained to have different responses to the stimulus of seeing a black person?
Interesting, but since Zimmerman is Hispanic ( ie largely Mayan Native American) what do the reaction of "Caucasians" have to do with anything?
Excellent analysis. Now, tell me Kimberly, after your fine deconstruction of the amygdala, what is the brain center in African-Americans for Ebonics? Is it a hiphop linguistic pseudo-speech center, akin to Broca's Area, but more primitive/primal? Where is the 'fried chicken and watermelon' lobe in the Negro brain? Neuroscience has much work ahead of it...wink
Interesting report.

How do whites' reactions differ based on where they live?

Do European whites act differently than whites in Latin America, South Africa, Australia/New Zealand, India, Israel or Russia?

And among these groups does the reaction always hold true with all groups with darker skin, or only with darker-skinned populations with which there is a history of violent conflict?

For example, perhaps Russians in Russia would lack the response to African Americans that white Americans have, but they would have a high response to Asiatic-features, due to a different historical situation?

I have noticed that, generally speaking, American whites interact with American Blacks far differently than Russian whites and Israeli whites interact with American Blacks, and I have always wondered whether this is cultural or not.
It's deep-seated, not deep-seeded. Thank you.
This fantastic insight into our process for dealing with what we see, react to -- and, are controlled by. So, how free are we? Who should have the power to decide life and death, if impaired by such an unbalanced view of the world (their world), for how one sees strongly signals the total body on how to react. Should all gun owners undergo brain scans? Or is this too much trouble?
Thank you for your very strong post. This is exciting. New ground broken and from this what may feed on the light of day.
@Rwoo5g Thank you for your question it allows us to broaden the conversation a bit. The amygdala is implicated in learned fear responses. So we can be taught in our childhood that people with dark skin and afro-centric facial features should invoke fear and distrust. However, that is just the way that African Americans are often depicted in the United States. Other cultures or other countries may (and do) teach group members to learn to distrust people based on other features. Conceivably, accents, height, hair color, religion, even head size can be used as signals to invoke amygdala activation. Dark skin does not need to be the trigger. Society provides information through text books, media, teachers, parents, and even government policies about who is more of less trustworthy or violent. Our amygdala records this information and often acts upon it.
Kimberly - I reread your post again. The problem I have with all these tests is that either they are lacking or there is more info out there that is not presented here. For instance. Take the purple/black hand test. OK people are not empathetic to the black hand. Well obviously we are not all Zimerman's but we may all test the same on that one test.
Where is the test to correlate the the hand test to actual actions in real life? Where is the study for other factors that allow people like myself to not be afraid of a black man at 4:00 am who is lost? What allows me to approach him and offer help and put him in my car and give him a ride?
What lets me get lost in a black neighborhood and actually stop and ask 3 black kids for directions? A test showing brain activity response to a black face does not predict my behavior in the real world.

The way I see this is that you are using a lot of fancy science to say that all white people are racists. What you are not providing is tests that show other cognitive functions that allow for us to put aside our prejudice.
I would love to take that test and have it show that I am scared of a black man and then have some neruo psychologist explain why I don't act like the test indicates.
Other tests are necessary to show if the black scared effect is or is not overridden by other more compelling factors.

I wonder. Are you a neuro psych? Have you ever taken or administered a neuro psych exam? Do you know what Validity Indicators are?

I can tell you I know a bit about this stuff. And I know enough to know that if the investigators themselves are biased to get the results they want (white people are deeply psychologically afraid of blacks) they will design the test to show it. And they won' t know it for exactly the reason they claim whites are unconsciously afraid of blacks. The investigators themselves need to be tested in exactly the same way they are using these tests.

Like one to show their brain chemicals go crazy when they think about how they hate racism. How THEY react to a picture of a Zimmerman or Larry the cable guy. He kind of looks like a jerk doesn't he? How they are in fact prejudiced by their own science and their own social/political attitudes.

What you present is too simplistic. There either is more info out there that you do not cite or the people doing this testing are not wanting to fully investigate the correlation of the test and real actions.
Great article and will post it on Facebook. I live in Cape Town South Africa and a recent NYT article pointed it out to be a racist city, when many consider it to be a great liberal city. It is in many ways, but many are still not aware of how they may be unconsciously racist, and the research you cited is a great eye opener.
Racism and racially motivated violence are carefully and consistently.taught conditioned responses, reactions, and reflexes.
By the time an individual is old enough to test for, and measure, the neirolgical and physiological changes caused by the chemistry of amydala, it's too late he/she is already the racist he/she was trained to be. What the studies show ate not the causes of racism and violent racist behavior, but the effects theteof....The key here is to develop a culture and society in which the neurology and physiology of racismand racially motivated violence have no value or use as normal functions of the brain and hence completely unnecessary....
I don't need neuroscience studies to prove anything about how Trevor's death came to fruition. My hope is that someone or something will avenge his death...so that another young black man is not unjustly judged and executed without the benefit of conviction or sentencing in a court of competent jurisdiction and venue.

Shame on Florida laws and anybody else in law enforcement choosing to decide who gets to live and who dies.
Rated, for being one of the most (if not the most) important issue we need to confront: The conflict between a "Lizard Brain" that's geared for survival on a primitive level, and the potential of our higher intelligence, elevated to prevail and allow us to thrive. A species with the level of technology we have, controlled by those primitive instincts, will most likely not survive (see Professor Michio Kaku's theory on why there is so little advanced life in the universe – they destroy themselves not too long after achieving a certain level of technology).

I've only the time now to have skimmed most of this (and the comments) but it's long been an interest of mine. In September, I posted something on it, "Mama, Why Does That Man Have a Stick in His Hand?" here on OS, as well as other posts.

I do agree with Karen McKim (and others) here, that there is a potential for change. Your deconstruction of her postulate is in itself a bit off the mark, in as much as while imagining Denzel has it's limitations, the cognitive experience of belaying the autonomic reaction does have power and the more it's repeated, the more powerful it becomes. We create reality out of our language, beyond those primitive instincts we have. By altering language in declarative constructions and experiencing reality (much as the shift can be initially disconcerting) in a new way, it is possible to change behavior.

Over 45 percent of our actions are estimated to be simply habitual in recent MIT studies and the sequence of triggers and rewards which are associated with those actions can be interrupted and redirected. The subconscious is a repository of images as well, which create systems of attitudes and beliefs, without any regard to whether they are based on present reality (Shad Helmstetter Ph.d). These responses are far more complicated and the testing stratagems far more capable of skewing results, than the research ­done so far can account for, but cognitive therapy does work, when there's a supportive environment in which one can experience it. Nevertheless, the good thing is, we are doing the research and becoming aware of what autonomic responses we may have, because such an awareness is the first step in overcoming them.

I myself was conditioned through my exposure to my earliest friend, a black kid from Tobago and his incredibly warm father, to view large black men as warm and friendly. Have I had other experiences? Yes, I've been assaulted by young blacks, threatened by others and given generous help and by yet more. The associations are all there, but what's important is that when the negative ones come to the forefront, I can stop and tell myself they are not an accurate representation of what's happening. As for the good ones, I naturally want to build on them, which may result in a great experience or not, but it's the intent that counts.

We are human, we will remain human and while evolutionary change may occur to make these primitive instincts less of an influence and higher intelligence more of one, it may take eons. On the other hand, we can work to raise the awareness these mechanisms in all of us and by doing so, create that supportive environment for cognitive shifts possible and dominant.
It won't take with everyone, but it doesn't have to. It only has to reach a critical mass, a tipping point in attitudes and beliefs, such that the new "normal" is a better one for all of us.
It's a damn shame it takes all this scientific research here to prove that America has a problem with racism--and particularly with black men. We black OS contributors have been writing about it for months, long before Trayvon got shot and killed.
Maybe there shouLd be some scientific research done on how white people are too dense to get it.
If people would fear ignorance, instead of being ignorant, the world would be a less fearful place.
Considering why Mr. Martin was in the neighborhood (staying with his dad while suspended from school for having a baggie with marijuana residue in his backpack), Zimmerman may have been right about his statement that he looked like he was on drugs.
Neuroscientific imperialism: the practice of reducing understanding of human behavior to brain activity as measured by specialized scientific instruments. Scientific knowledge produced in this manner can provide valuable clues about human behavior. However, it becomes distortive when applied beyond its inherent limits. It must always be recognized that knowledge arrived at by scientific method is separated (abstracted) from experience. An actual (lived) series of events in the world is quite different than what transpires under the controlled conditions of a scientific test, scan, or simulation.

This article falls short by taking neuroscience too far. To make its points it assumes facts not in evidence regarding what occurred between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. According to the article:

“Zimmerman said in his 911 call that Trayvon ‘looks like he is up to no good’ or that ‘he’s on drugs or something’ and he said Trayvon, ‘looks Black.’ Zimmerman saw Trayvon as threatening though he displayed no threatening behavior.”

This is the same misleading editing that MSNBC was roundly criticized for. Compare it with the unedited transcript of this segment of the 911 call:

Zimmerman: We’ve had some break-ins in my neighborhood and there’s a real suspicious guy. It’s Retreat View Circle. The best address I can give you is 111 Retreat View Circle. This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around looking about. [00:25]

911 dispatcher: OK, is he White, Black, or Hispanic?

Zimmerman: He looks black.

911 dispatcher: Did you see what he was wearing?

Zimmerman: Yeah, a dark hoodie like a gray hoodie. He wore jeans or sweat pants and white tennis shoes. He’s here now … he’s just staring. [00:42]

911 dispatcher: He’s just walking around the area, the houses? OK.

Zimmerman: Now he’s staring at me. [00:48]

911 dispatcher: OK, you said that’s 1111 Retreat View or 111?

Zimmerman: That’s the clubhouse.

911 dispatcher: He’s near the clubhouse now?

Zimmerman: Yeah, now he’s coming toward me. He’s got his hands in his waist band. And he’s a black male. [1:03]

From this exchange one could reasonably conclude that Zimmerman did not initially perceive the person in the hoodie as being Black. It is only when he’s asked by the dispatcher that Zimmerman states, still uncertain, “He looks Black.” It takes another 30 seconds, after Martin walks toward him, before he finally affirms that “He’s a Black male.”

The article goes on to state:

“Trayvon did not have to act threatening because to Zimmerman, the threat lived solely in the color of his skin. His face, not his hoodie, created a reaction and a presumption that he was ‘up to no good.’”

The article presumes to know what Zimmerman perceived. There is enough uncertainty in the 911 call to doubt that Zimmerman was initially responding to the situation based on knowing Martin’s race. It is just as likely that he was reacting to a tall figure in the rain wearing a hoodie – which has become the uniform of youth of many races, both rural and urban.

Indeed, substantial information has emerged to support the position that Zimmerman is not a racist. The “affidavit of probable cause” issued by the special prosecutor does not indict Zimmerman for committing a hate crime. The affidavit does state that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin, but this refers to Zimmerman perceiving Martin as exhibiting criminal behavior, not to Martin’s race. The only significant evidence that Zimmerman’s actions were racially motivated dissolved when prosecutors determined he had not used a racial slur on the night he shot Martin.

And then there’s the matter of context. Context is where scientific studies show their limitations. When conducting experiments scientists control the context. Results are drawn from artificial situations that contain a limited number of variables. Reality is much deeper and more complex.

Zimmerman’s 911 call provides information about the context in which his actions took place: There had been a series of break-ins in the neighborhood. Zimmerman took his duties as a crime watch captain seriously, arguably too seriously. It’s raining. He’s primed to take action to prevent further break-ins. He sees the a tall, hooded figure walking in the rain. This context is quite different than someone looking at pictures of faces while lying down in an MRI machine.

More broadly, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman brought unique personal histories (contexts) to their encounter with each other. It is unlikely that a criminal investigation will reveal all that went into their catastrophic meeting. The truth is much deeper than what can be known beyond a reasonable doubt. It is certainly deeper than technical measurements reflecting what happens most of the time in the amygdalas of anonymous subjects.

The author suggests, “We can write Zimmerman off as simply a sociopath who set out to hunt Trayvon Martin – an outlier.” These labels befit neither the memory of Trayvon Martin nor the presumption of innocence that custom and jurisprudence afford George Zimmerman. Beware a science that turns flesh and blood people into stick figures upon which to hang its findings, only adding to the emotional reactivity rampant on both sides of this tragedy.
Ms.P. is certainly taking a lot for granted. I have seen estimates, for example, about the extent of various crimes experienced by "people" , including Whites, which were done by Blacks. Once you have experienced such a thing, I assure you, you are not likelly to forget it, expecially in my generation which had no experience with such a thing (from anyone). If subsequently, such a person has a "racist" reaction , I wouldn 't call it neuroscience, it would be more like learning from experience. Sort of like that joke:" what is a Conservative? a Liberal who got mugged." I completely agree that such reactions are anecdotal, and not conclusive by themselves, but they are factual , and statistically significant, when you do the numbers. Personally, the think the Trayvon case is already in the realm of the OJ Simpson one: it is almost impossible to establish the truth, and few people care what it is anyway, though they care intensely about the result.
Ms.P. is certainly taking a lot for granted. I have seen estimates, for example, about the extent of various crimes experienced by "people" , including Whites, which were done by Blacks. Once you have experienced such a thing, I assure you, you are not likelly to forget it, expecially in my generation which had no experience with such a thing (from anyone). If subsequently, such a person has a "racist" reaction , I wouldn 't call it neuroscience, it would be more like learning from experience. Sort of like that joke:" what is a Conservative? a Liberal who got mugged." I completely agree that such reactions are anecdotal, and not conclusive by themselves, but they are factual , and statistically significant, when you do the numbers. Personally, the think the Trayvon case is already in the realm of the OJ Simpson one: it is almost impossible to establish the truth, and few people care what it is anyway, though they care intensely about the result.
Toure' (who i personally despise) wrote an article for Time mag; http://ideas.time.com/2012/04/19/inside-the-racist-mind/?iid=op-main-lede. That I feel approaches what you are speaking to from a different perspective. If there was a creolization of the two approaches, I think would present a more effective, more layered argument that show how insidious and invisible racism is. Just my two cents and actually, I think you could probably write a better article than Toure' and if anything, his input would hold you back. Unfortunately, he has the audience...and his brand of cultural critique is more palatable to the masses.
Anti-African American bias may, and probably did, play a part in this tragedy, but how big a part? Likewise, how big a part did the function of the George Zimmerman's amygdala play? Or the function of other parts of his brain or organs of his body? Adrenaline, for instance. What part did Trayvon
Martin's amygdala play? Did either of them have a cerebral arachnoid cyst? Did the fact that Mister Zimmerman had a loaded pistol with him - apparently legal - play a part? In my opinion the pistol was the main reason that this tragic scenario played out the way it did.

Carrying a deadly weapon can and does endow the carrier with
a powerful sense of security that he or she may very well act in ways that they would not had acted if they were not so armed. Mister Zimmerman would have thought twice about following Mister Martin with the intent to confront him, which as a self-appointed watchman he was not legally empowered to do. That - the pistol - was by far the most important single element in this senseless incident.

I notice, Ms Papillon that your birthday is the 31 December - New Years Eve. Do you feel that from your earliest days you experienced a birthday celebration far more gay and dramatic then someone born on more mundane day. Did this make you more special? More deserving of special treatment? More empowered? Did this effect your life in ways that would not if your birthday had fallen on a more ordinary, non-celebratory date. My point? In the final analysis any tragic deadly event has many facets the lead to the outcome. Though as erudite and as learned as your piece may be, it quite possible had a relatively minor role in the killing of Travon Martin.