The experimenters used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan the brains of Harvard and other Boston-area students while showing them pictures of other college-age people whom the researchers randomly described as either liberal northeastern students or conservative Midwest fundamentalist Christian students. The categories were a ruse.
Heightened activity in the ventral mPFC was associated with mentalization of self-similar people, whereas dorsal mPFC activity was associated with mentalization of self-dissimilar people. But when the participant pondered the subject in situations where an outsider was believed to behave in the same way as the participant would, activity in dorsal and ventral mPFC was equivalent.
With continuing advancements in the field of neuroscience, this study presents some excellent data to help us better understand the roots of prejudice and stereotyping. This study also poses potential challenges for the future since humans have a tendency to follow up discovery with manipulation - how long until someone posits the use of treatment to suppress activity in the parts of the brain responsible for prejudice, discrimination and bigotry? Are these "diseases" to be cured, deficiencies born of ignorance, or simply a part of being human?