Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2013

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Hitlin, Steven

First Committee Member

Glanville, Jennifer

Second Committee Member

Campbell, Mary

Third Committee Member

Tranel, Daniel

Fourth Committee Member

Magnotta, Vincent


While previous literature successfully demonstrates that racial prejudice is nourished and augmented by conventional societal notions of morality, it rarely explicates the social psychological mechanisms underlying this process. We know a relationship exists between racial prejudice and morality, but we do not fully understand how society's moral codes become operational within the human mind, and thus, how intractable they might be. My dissertation bridges this gap by developing `apathetic racism theory', an interdisciplinary approach that combines neurological and sociological theories and methodologies, suggesting that moral apathy towards blacks constitutes the main mechanism for contemporary racism. The theory distinguishes between two forms of racism that rely on distinct neural processes: a) sympathetic gradationalism towards the middle class (for which the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is pivotal) and b) blended racism against the upper and lower classes (for which the amygdala and the insula are crucial). Using three experiments: 1) a pictorial vignette study, 2) a lesion study with patients with damage to the hypothesized brain regions, and 3) a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) study, this dissertation provides partial support to my theory. By shedding light on some of the unexplored emotional mechanisms of race bias, this dissertation elucidates how seemingly positive evaluations of members of racial out-groups might actually sustain a racially inequitable status-quo.


moral emotions, neurosociology, racism


x, 229 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 201-229).


Copyright 2013 Rengin Bahar Firat

Included in

Sociology Commons