Monday, March 21, 2011

We Can Change Our Minds

My first encounter with brain research on bias was a talk entitled "Mind Bugs: The Science of Ordinary Bias," presented by Harvard researcher Mahzarin Banaji at Bates College in February 2010.

Banaji explained that as our brains categorize people into "like us" and "different from us," a universal function, we have "zero experience that this is happening." Because it's unconscious, we can't control the implicit bias that is the brain's method of imposing order.

What we can influence is what we tell the brain to do with that information. We can choose behaviors that are "in line with what we intend, not with our unconscious prejudices." "New methods for self-discovery are available," Banaji said, such as the Implicit Association Test, or IAT. "With these methods, anyone can line up behavior with intention." According to Banaji, we can "use our big, fat prefrontal cortex to decide: which biases do we want to keep?"

Our minds are shaped everyday by the associations we create.
Our current society and culture is white-dominant. A constant exposure to such a diet will nurture White Mind. But we don't have to simply accept this status quo.

Banaji's advice: Choose models - books, music, movies, friends, images, etc - "that give you data contrary to what society is giving you." These models contradict and balance out the bias we're being fed and that our brains are forming. (It's a powerful argument for exposing children to books with positive images of all kinds of people, especially those who are often portrayed negatively or are invisible in the media; more about that in the next few posts.) As we change the associations in our minds, this will naturally flow into our behaviors, especially the unconscious ones of voice tone, facial expression and body language.

Even without testing, we can take inventory of our own lives. We can look at the choices we make - the books we read, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, the friends we hang out with and invite into our homes. Then ask ourselves, do the patterns of our lives match our intentions?

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