Home > discrimination, predjudice, Uncategorized, unconscious bias > Buried Prejudice: The Bigot in Your Brain…

Buried Prejudice: The Bigot in Your Brain…

One of the aspects of Diversity2.0 is the focus unconscious biases as a universal condition that all of us are prone.   The article in the Scientific American, “Buried Prejudice: The Bigot in Your Brain” is a well written piece that describes in detail how the natural condition of human beings is to unconsciously discriminate against others who are not like us.  But, the really fascinating things in the piece suggest that our bias can be based on the most irrelevant characteristics that you can imagine.  From the color of one’s jersey to the random appointment to a group who you have nothing in common with except to belong to that particular group.  Even after just a brief time with being associated to a specific group researchers have demonstrated that we will discriminate in favor of our appointed group over members of other groups.  And get this…in this instance the race, gender, ethnicity, and other characterisitcs that we think really matter in the end don’t.


Another fascinating fact about bias is that most unconscious bias is “triggered” by the situation or environment that a person can find themselves in.  We are basically animals who are guided by patterns of behavior and thoughts.  When one of these neural circuits is triggered by relevant conditions then a pattern of thought coded by emotion, and behavior result in the actions we take and the emotions we feel.

What this means for the workplace:  3 Things.  First, think about your workplace.  What triggers or conditions exist that spark negative emotions in you?  What sparks apprehension?  What fires you up?  A minute of reflection about these questions will help you better understand the type of actions necessary for you to take to stay connected and motivated in your workplace. 

Second, reflect on how you perceive a situation with your fellow employees and customers.  What you perceive as a slight could just be the manifestation of your own mind interpeting a situation to better fit your preconceived mindset.  In other words, what we believe often becomes our reality.

Third, understand that the most powerful thing you can do to reduce you unconscious biases is to give everyone the “benefit of the doubt”.  In other words, tell yourself that everyone is doing the best that they can based on the circumstances.  And your role is to reflect on what positive value you can add to improve the situation.

read the great article here

  1. September 10, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    I think this study is very well done and has been able to produce some shocking yet somewhat predictable result.
    In looking back on some of the other articles I have read dealing with this subject I can’t help but think of how I was raised. As a small child I was not exposed to a diverse population. African Americans were not something I associated with violence except for what I saw on TV. After moving on in life I can remember making associations with other races, not necessarily based on opinions I formed on my own, but by those who raised me. My grandparents, being the more extreme, always portrayed African American people as a negative. If something bad happened in the world it was never the whites who were to blame, it was “Mexicans or Blacks”. My parent’s opinions on the matter were a little more muted than my grandparents and my siblings even less than my parents. In light of how our society is becoming more and more “mixed” every day, I can’t help but wonder if it is strictly a generational issue. In 40 years will this issue cease to exist?
    I think a large part of our association with violence is developed by how the world’s societal structure has developed over the years. How can we blame our unconscious when we ourselves have consciously allowed people to grow up with little option but to steal and kill to survive? Forget about American society, as we can all agree that we are much better off than other countries. Looking at Darfur for example, the children growing up there today are faced with violence that no one should ever have to encounter. It is not an issue of race, it is an issue of human rights, and children there have no other option but to embrace violence if they want to survive.
    Until we as a people can move past our differences we will always have an unconscious bias against the unfamiliar, race is nothing more than a portal to channel our fear. I for one truly hope that within the next decade we can make a more conscious effort to remove such stigma from our everyday lives, and begin to develop a better understanding of how we can all relate to importance of peaceful society and do away with our petty and unfounded biases.

  2. Leroy
    September 13, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    I too think that this result is expected and is just more actual scientific data verifying what most assumed. Anybody who has ever recieved that look of fear when there is no action to support the assumption other than previously held beliefs, knows how it feels to have done nothing yet looked at as already commited an offense. Those who have never felt this cannot even imagine the toll it takes consistently on the mind of those who this is normal behavior to occur over and over again. I think the younger generation that has grown up with this “we” mentality, is actually living the dream of those like Martin Luther King. He spoke of those who should look at one another by their character, this generation was exposed to a previously never before in human history fact instant communication at all times. With access to information that may go against what an adult may be telling them, it is not as easy to raise a child with beliefs that the adult is trying to pass on to another generation. Time is the only thing that will change how things are as a whole, 30-50 years from now as older generations, and their ideology die off, and a whole new technology driven young generation emerges, then we’ll see significant change. Until then we must all fight and recognize that this seperation factor in society is not healthy, and will never be good for the human race. The more you group and seperate the less it is about what each individual brings into the arena. I hope we can speed the process up so that it is common knowledge to accept the fact that we cannot stay bias free, but learn how to have it make it have as little negative impact on our lives as possible.

  3. September 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    This article has relevance to all who read it. There are subsequently two great follow-ups that show how different responses are garnered from the same material. The same situation happens in the workplace with the people, places, and context of our jobs. What was interesting to me was founder and C.E.O. of iGlobal Network, Bruce Stewart’s, list of three things to take from the article. The first was actually an activity in which readers were supposed to reflect on their personal experience in the workplace. Great activity for those who feel that they are the immune to the pitfalls of discrimination and subtle slights and for those who feel the crunch everyday. The next step was to realize that we shape the world we live in. If you wake up and say, “today is going to be a bad day”, it will. The same rules apply to the workplace. If you think that people are inferior, even in the most subtle of ways, then you shape the workplace in that fashion. If you constantly feel that others are not as qualified as you or cannot possible feel the way you do, then you give that possibility reality. By simply giving them (others in the workplace) the benefit of doubt, which is the third step, you are essentially changing the environment that you are a part of. What does that mean? You will notice smiles that you did not before, you will act out of compassion instead of disdain, and you will exponentially increase productivity without enacting any procedural changes. Sounds too good to be true, like some new commercial right? Well it has been this way for as long as people have existed. Think about someone in your family. You may get fed up with them, disagree with their beliefs, and hate their style. However, when the family reunion comes around, you suck it up and carry on like you have missed them endlessly. By the end of the function, you have a true feeling of love for that person because you remember that those things you despise don’t change the fact that they care for you. In a way, the same rules apply to the workplace. Next time you see someone doing something that in some way gives you angst, consciously give them the benefit of the doubt by saying, “That Roger is something else” or “It sure would be boring without Susan”. Take the bases of your problems and make them the bases of your gratitude. I know it is easier said than done, but with a little practice you can truly change the world, your world.

  4. Innovative Diversity
    September 25, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    One interesting fact about this study, is that it shows how powerful the mind is in producing categorizations, which may or may not reflect the reality of a situation. These categorizations are the result of the experiences and observations gathered throughout ones life. In doing this, positive features are often overemphasized while negative aspects are often ignored. While this is an entirely natural human trait, when coupled with a need to make a quick decision it often brings to the fore the reality as it is perceived based on experiences and observations, with no time to consider whether the thought accurately reflects the situation. One way to begin to counteract this is to actively question oneself, when negative thoughts are produced, as to whether one is using prejudiced bias or forming a fair opinion of the situation. Another way to combat negative unfair conclusions is to be exposed to unfamiliar situations, experiences and people. As one becomes more familiar, or comfortable, with an environment or people, unless substantiated the unfounded negative thoughts will reflect reality more and more until it becomes a natural reaction to look at all sides of the issue before forming a more fair opinion.

  5. Tiye Lumen
    April 13, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Sadly social restrictions and innate self preservation normally precedes our will to reach out to others. We keep forgetting there is part of us in everybody else.

    On a trip to New Orleans (not Mardi Gras) I put into effect the following experiment: Offered hugs to walking by pedestrians…

    No, I wasn’t drunk… Out of 10 people, one refused. One.

    Beware not to be embellished by the diversity preaching as a way of walking away from practicing its postulates.

    Reach out. By the way, try different food, different music every once in a while… nice way to get one out of one’s shell.

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