From the Editor; April/May 2008; Scientific American Mind; by Mariette DiChristina; 1 Page(s)
A headline in the New York Times drew my eye this morning: "On a Battlefield of Civil Rights, Race Fades for Some Voters." The story reported that "voters in an Alabama county that is more than 96 percent white chose a genial black man, James Fields, to represent them in the State House of Representatives." Why, you might ask, is that front-page news more than 100 years after the Civil War?
Part of the answer is that we are still using brains evolved over millions of years to prefer what social psychologists call our "in-group"--those with whom we identify, who historically could help us survive as members of our collaborative tribe or clan. Our brains use shortcuts for such social identification, swiftly categorizing others--and ourselves--to avoid the energy-intensive processing of conscious thought. Often we do not even realize how extensively subconscious stereotypes shape our reactions, as two feature articles in this issue reveal.