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What Does Sugar Have to do with Prejudice? July 6, 2009

Posted by Geekgirl in psychology.
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Does sugar make people sweeter? More importantly, does it reduce prejudice? Researchers in the Netherlands and Florida State University conducted a psychology experiment on undergraduates. They are quite readily available you know. Undergraduates, that is.

Here’s the experiment. I do not recommend trying this experiment with your diabetic friends. That would not be nice.

Participants were given lemonade. Half of the participants received lemonade sweetened with sucrose, ordinary table sugar, the other half received lemonade sweetened with Splenda®. Neither the person handing out the drinks nor the participants knew who received which drink. This is what is called a double blind experiment. So that means, another person behind the scenes knew what was in each glass through a coding system.

At this point you might ask….. WHY? Self-control requires a lot of energy and our brains use a lot of energy. In other words, sugar helps our self control. If you think about when you get a sugar low, that probably makes sense to you.

After the participants drank the lemonade, they were shown a photograph of a man and were told that he was gay. They were asked to write for five minutes what a typical day would be like for this young man. That’s all. No other clues.

So what were the results?

After the writing exercise, the participants took a little quiz. The HATH quiz, which tests Heterosexual Attitudes Toward Homosexuals. A low score means more negativity. A high score means less negativity.

So now we have a mixture. Some students who received lemonade with sugar had high HATH scores, some had low HATH scores. The same for the students who drank the lemonade with Splenda®.

The essays were scored by independent researchers not involved with the participants. Using a specific set of terms that are often associated with prejudice and stereotyping gays, the readers scored each assay. On average, the students who had low HATH scores and the sugar drink had an average of 1.5 negative comments per paper. Students who had low HATH scores and the Splenda drink had an average of 3 negative comments per paper. That’s a pretty big difference.

Students with high HATH scores, remember that means less negativity, were not affected. So in other words, Splenda isn’t causing people to write negative things about gay people (whew!).

So I think the lesson is that people can be made sweeter. Or at least, less prejudiced. I feel better about that ice cream bar I’m about to go eat.

Reference and link included below.

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Volume 45, Issue 1, January 2009, Pages 288-290

Stereotypes and prejudice in the blood: Sucrose drinks reduce prejudice and stereotyping

Matthew T. Gailliot a, B. Michelle Peruche b, E. Ashby Plant b,*, Roy F. Baumeister b

a Department of Social Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Roetersstraat 15, 1018 WB Amsterdam, Netherlands

b Department of Psychology, Florida State University, P.O. Box 3064301, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4301, USA

Available online 12 September 2008

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