Science Continues to Dazzle

For any whose faith in science may have been strained by its recent forays into climate theology, this paper will reinvigorate your fervor. It’s title:

Unlearning implicit social biases during sleep

I can already envision several salutary applications before reading another word. Just by snoozing Arabs could unlearn their bias toward migrating into white countries and raping the native women. Jews could unlearn their millennial habit of screaming in pain upon repeatedly striking their hosts. Blacks could unlearn biases toward…well, practically everything blacks do. It’s enough to titillate my own implicit biases, even while wide awake. Here is the abstract.

Although people may endorse egalitarianism and tolerance, social biases can remain operative and drive harmful actions in an unconscious manner. Here, we investigated training to reduce implicit racial and gender bias. Forty participants processed counterstereotype information paired with one sound for each type of bias. Biases were reduced immediately after training. During subsequent slow-wave sleep, one sound was unobtrusively presented to each participant, repeatedly, to reactivate one type of training. Corresponding bias reductions were fortified in comparison with the social bias not externally reactivated during sleep. This advantage remained 1 week later, the magnitude of which was associated with time in slow-wave and rapid-eye-movement sleep after training. We conclude that memory reactivation during sleep enhances counterstereotype training and that maintaining a bias reduction is sleep-dependent.

To state it more concisely, the experiment involved showing subjects images of oppressed demographics captioned by fictional statements. While gazing upon these cartoon stills, a certain chime was sounded so as to establish a subconscious correlation between the false image caption and the auditory stimulus. Subsequently, the same sound cue was repeated during sleep in hopes it would stimulate traction, i.e. training, for the newly learned bias reduction.

For instance, subjects would view images of Louis Head with captions such as “charming,” “happy,” “intelligent,” “astronaut,” and “definitely not a dumb ******” While in the background plays a remorseless BONG BONG BONG like Poe’s Bells.

Hear the sledges with the bells –
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells

Thus subconsciously primed for nocturnal idoctrination training, participants are again subject to the tintinnabulation during slumber, and subsequently wake apparently amenable to immediate ministrations on the excited head of the excitable Head. Which still leaves me excited to learn which of the vast and pernicious biases in non-whites the researchers had successfully extirpated.

Participants were White males and females from a university community (N = 40) and were recruited as two subsamples that allowed for a direct replication…

So every subject was white? How could they legitimately test the efficacy of cross-cultural bias abatement using only one cohort? That’s actually quite simple. The experiment isn’t at all about reducing a natural and beneficial concept called bias; it’s about reducing whites. Were it otherwise I quite think all of the clucking about diversity that emanates from the academy would seep into their studies. Practically every Western university has jettisoned principles of merit to accommodate a campus potpourri–and suddenly not a single student of color could be located to participate in critical bias reduction experiments?

Oh, from out the sounding cells
What a gush of euphony voluminously wells!
How it swells!
How it dwells
On the Future! -how it tells
Of the rapture that impels
To the swinging and the ringing
Of the bells, bells, bells

Though as I think more of the research staff: Hu Xiaoqing, James Antony, Jessica Creery, Iliana Vargas, Galen Bodenhausen, and the reputed lead Ken Paller, I wonder how many of their own inelegant biases the technique could eliminate. Some potential research samples:

A photoshopped smiling Hu crawling into the mouth of a crocodile: “Playful.”


Mr. Antony leaping from a roof with a mid-air thumbs up: “Liberating”


Ms. Creery winking with a mouthful of narcotic pills: “Sleepytime”


And if you’re curious as to Mr. Paller’s genealogy, it appears to be catalogued here.

Of course a great many (probably most) biases are beneficial to, and serve the interests of, those creatures who hold them. They are generally adaptive for the host. Mice, for instance, have an instinctual revulsion to the smell of cat urine–which works to keep them out of feline intestinal tracts. So which party would have a more vested interest in reducing this rodent bias, the predator or the prey? I’ll just let you sleep on that. And don’t forget the tintinnabulation.


6 thoughts on “Science Continues to Dazzle

  1. Mice, for instance, have an instinctual revulsion to the smell of cat urine–which works to keep them out of feline intestinal tracts.

    Never believe a mouse who screams “I’m not a urinist!”

  2. I had an even more outlandish idea, whereby you could erase the biases of not 40 but 200 000 000 people, just by subjecting them to entertainment where their deadliest enemies are depicted as kind and gentle people, and the most twisted perversions are presented as perfectly normal. At the end of the experiment the laboratory subjects might even be willing to vote for hate laws to punish themselves for any prejudices that might remain. But it’s such a crazy idea, it’s in the realm of cold fusion or teleportation.

  3. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/05/31) | The Reactivity Place

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