Blind to Built-In Biases

An old Jewish proverb goes, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.” The saying implies that one’s ways might not be so right as we would like to think. And then there’s the ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself,” which has been interpreted as a kind of rebuke to the person “whose boasts exceed what they are.” Now along comes modern psychology to try to prove the point—to weigh, or measure, the “heart” (that is, the subconscious, the seat of our underlying motivations). Researchers Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald have published Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People to present their findings concerning our “implicit attitudes” (implicit can mean unexpressed or unquestioned). The “good people” of the title are those who try to bring their actions into line with their intentions.

The book has been widely praised as “accessible” in its presentation of the subtle ways our conscious self-awareness may be out of sync with our inner self. The type of bias that receives the most attention in Blindspot is racial bias, which can lead to prejudice and discrimination, and worse—to racist attitudes. People also harbor biases in such areas as sex roles, disability status, and age. Mahzarin and Greenwald are known for developing the Implicit Attitude Test (IAT), which attempts to measure a person’s “automatic preferences” or degree of endorsement of stereotypes.

The authors argue that the forming of implicit biases is, to some degree, a natural ability that aids us in navigating complex social situations, such as recognizing friends or foes. They offer some recommendations for what to do with unconscious biases. For example, we can try consciously to counteract them, both our own and those of others. We can adapt our beliefs and behaviors to “outsmart” our inner tendencies, not only to better understand ourselves but also to be better people.

Image credit: © Kati Neudert/Shutterstock

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    hi everyone