Researchers from Yale University studied rhesus monkey behavior in relation to images of known monkeys (insiders) and unknown monkeys (outsiders). They concluded that they had found the first evidence that a nonhuman species shows greater attentiveness and wariness towards outsiders than those living in their own social units. Their research also showed when certain objects were associated with the outsider images, the monkeys became more attentive and weary of those objects also.
While this information may appear odd at first glance, it makes more sense when you learn some context. Their study was designed in light of the Implicit Association Test, which was developed to test human racism. It is a computer-based test which shows images of European Americans and African-Americans to subjects, and measures their tendency to associate the words good or bad with those races. The quick association of the word bad with African American faces or good with European American faces measured by the test, has been believed to show the biases of the test takers. This human-oriented test was the conceptual basis for the rhesus monkey study.
In their study abstract they said, “We discovered that macaques, like humans, automatically evaluate ingroup members positively and outgroup members negatively. These field studies represent the first controlled experiments to examine the presence of intergroup attitudes in a nonhuman species. As such, these studies suggest that the architecture of the mind that enables the formation of these biases may be rooted in phylogenetically ancient mechanisms. (Source: sciencedirect.com)
So it could be that discrimination based on visual information is an automatic response based in the brain, and addressing it realistically must acknowledge it not only as a cultural situation, or learned behavior. If the research represents accurately the mental experience of both the rhesus monkeys and is applicable to humans, would we be open-minded, or even brave enough to accept racism as potentially an inherent human mental experience and practice?
Image Credit: Thomas Schoch