Fearing Other Races

A fascinating piece from
National Geographic
about human fear that ties in nicely to our notions of travel. The study shows that people are
more readily afraid of others who are not their own race. In the study, blacks and whites were shown images of both
black and white men and given a mildly uncomfortable electric shock (you have to love any study that administers
electrical shocks). When shown the same images later, however, without the shock, they found that people dropped their
fears of people of their same race, but continued to fear of members of the other race. I find the methodology a bit
confusing (why the need for the shock in the first place? Perhaps just for kicks?), but it makes sense in evolutionary
terms because confrontation with different groups probably often led to conflict.

As one of the scientists put it, “Millennia ago, when groups stayed segregated by tribes and clans, the association of
difference with something bad or fear-provoking may have been reasonable or served a purpose.” That is, “humans may
have developed a predisposition to associate people of a different social group with a negative outcome”…like getting
their asses kicked.

This ties nicely into travel because travel is the way we overcome these fears. Right? Isn’t that one of the reasons
we venture out? To know more about the world outside our immediate lives, to encounter people who do things differently
and look different so that we can better understand ourselves as individuals and gain insight into the human condition?
To control and reduce our fears? We are fulfilled when travel strips us of prejudice and contributes to our personal
growth. We visit foreign places that reveal our collective history, that capture our imagination, and that give us
faith that the species will continue to survive and strive toward greater happiness for all. Or maybe that’s just