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 Article:


Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Tom Vannoy

Great post, thanks for sharing it. One person (Steve Robbins) I have seen who speaks to a little of this coined the term ‘unintentional intolerance’ and I think it relates a little to what you are speaking about here. His blog can be found at: http://www.slrobbins.com/blog

Dannielle Blumenthal

Thank you for sharing this Ashley. In particular I took notice of this sentence in your post: “What you perceive as a slight could just be the manifestation of your own mind interpeting a situation to better fit your preconceived mindset.” This is really something worth reflecting on in all situations and not just when it comes to diversity issues. Basically, everybody is walking around to some extent with a scenario in their head or a “script” that they bring to the table. There are three ways this can play out, from worse to better. The worst is when people simply fit other people into the script, i.e. look at them from their own narcissistic perspective only. (E.g. if they have an issue with wanting power, and someone says something that could be perceived as humiliating, even if it’s not the worst thing, they get angry in an out of proportion way.) The medium level is when people recognize that they have a script and at least pause before they react to others, because they want to examine their reaction to see if it is objectively appropriate. And the best is when people are able to recognize their instinctive reaction (based on their own script) as well as have insight into the other persons script, then react in a way that is both proportionate to reality and doesn’t trigger an out of proportion reaction from the person they are interacting with. This may sound complicated but handling it doesn’t have to be in practice – giving people the benefit of the doubt is a good start.