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New Research Suggests Fear of Disease Is at the Root of Racism

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Protesters wave placards against President Donald Trump during a Rise and Resist Against White Supremacy demonstration inside the Grand Central Station in New York on September 18th, 2017.

Donald Trump is a self-admitted germophobe. As recent events have made undeniably clear, he is also a racist.

New research into the psychological roots of racial prejudice suggest these seemingly separate traits are, in fact, strongly linked.

A research team led by Harvard University psychologist Brian O’Shea reports people who live in states with higher rates of infectious disease are more likely to hold both overt and implicit prejudices. This finding held true after taking into account a myriad of other factors, including religiosity, ideology, and education.

It further found that, among white people who are highly averse to germs, images that evoke thoughts of infectious disease also increase bias against African Americans.

Previous research has linked fear of disease to anti-immigrant bias, based on the false notion that migrants are carrying germs or viruses into the United States. This new study, in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, suggests that same dynamic drives dislike of fellow Americans with different skin color.

O’Shea and his colleagues describe two studies, the first of which featured 355,000 white and 77,000 black Americans who took tests measuring conscious and implicit bias on Harvard University’s Project Implicit website.

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