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Breaking Bias

Season 1, Episode 2

If you’re ready to challenge your bias and begin doing (or continue doing) the work, then join us as we explore different types of bias, how it begins, and most importantly-how we can break it. With actionable items, tools and tasks, you’ll walk away with a better understanding of bias and ways in which you can grow.

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[Intro music]

 

Noelle: Whaaaaat up?!

Miranda: Welcome to The Unpacked Project

Noelle: We’re your hosts-I’m Noelle

Miranda: And I'm Miranda.

Noelle: We're here to explore all things social justice. It's through casual conversations, interviews, and story telling that we hope to inspire others to take action towards a more compassionate and equitable world.

Miranda: 'Cause honestly it kinda sucks here sometimes.

Noelle: For real, we can do better people.

Miranda: Alright, let's start unpacking.

 

[Music plays]

 

Noelle: Hey everyone, so today we're breaking down bias, the different types, how it begins and how we can break it. It's definitely a big topic to cover, but we thought it was important for it to be our second episode because it's really going to be the base of understanding for a lot of future topics that we do talk about on our later episodes.

Miranda: Honestly it's a lot to explore that's for sure. And bias in general can be a pretty hefty topic to consume, but our hope is that we can create a space for learning or building upon which you already know, and then we're going to share some actionable steps you can take to really change-to create change, because that's what it's all about, and that's why we're here.

Noelle: So let's just talk about what we already know. Like you said, Miranda, there's always more to learn. There’s a lot that we're going to be talking about and consuming today, but let's just look at some of the things we know from research, because this has been studied. So we know that kids as young as one identify race-

Miranda: It's crazy.

Noelle: so they have this perception, they perceive this, and at a young age children prefer other children like them and discriminate against children unlike them. So we have this sort of formation even at a very young age of ingroups and outgroups, and children tend to indicate a strong and consistent pro White bias as early as pre K.

 

Miranda: It's crazy to me. So Black students-we also know that Black students in the US are subject to disciplinary action at rates much higher than White students and the responses also tend to be more severe. Also, that minorities receive lower quality healthcare than White people even when insurance status, income, age, and the severity of the conditions are comparable.

Noelle: Now let's talk about worldwide. So about half of the world's men and women-so this  kind of blew my mind-feel that men make better political leaders.

Miranda: We're screwed, we're screwed!

Noelle: Come on women, what?! And over 40% feel that men make better business executives and that men have more of a right to a job when jobs are scarce. 

Miranda: I wish y’all could see my face mark right now, my jaw just dropped.

Noelle: And like we said, we know this from research, right? These are things that have been studied, there's a lot of research on bias and just looking at these thought processes that people have that are sometimes are hard to explain right? Sometimes they don't even match what our values are in some of these cases, but aside from the research, I think we have our own personal experiences too-especially when I think about this topic. I have so many stories that come to mind, you know probably from being married to someone who is not White. We talked in the last episode about that need to cross racial lines and cross ethnic lines in order to gain some other perspective sometimes. And I think of stories- sharing this with my husband's permission-but my husband is Dominican and you know, I can think of stories that he has shared with me where he's been told, you speak so well I forget that you're Spanish.

Miranda: Oh my God.

Noelle: Or, you know, when we moved into our home in a predominantly White neighborhood, he was home and somebody came to sell windows or something and he opened the door and the person said to him, “Can I speak to the owner of the home?” There’s this automatic assumption that you must not be the person that owns his home, and those are just a couple. I could sit here and share many stories of things that have happened. Those are the most recent, like those are not a long time ago. You know, these are within the past couple of years that this has happened, so I just think when we think about the research on this, when we think about personal experiences and stories I'm sure you all have out there, it's a really important topic that we want to dive into today and just learn more about.

Miranda: Yup, and when I hear all this and the stats, the facts, your stories...it just makes me think why? And I know that I have my own bias as well, you know? And that's important to recognize...I'm no better than anybody else because we all have a bias. But people are inclined to want to say that they're colorblind. I have a handful of friends that have done that, or that they don't stereotype, and honestly, that's not really helpful either. We have the ability to make so much more progress as individuals and as a society if we just accept that this is a human truth, we need to explore this and confront our bias. So let me be clear, again...we're not bad people for having bias, because we all do.

Noelle: Yeah for sure. You know, we’re The Unpacked Project, right? We're here to unpack, so let's start doing this a little bit. So like you said, the topic of bias-we could probably sit here for hours and talk-but I think a good place to start and kind of explore a little bit is just from the scientific perspective of how we've studied bias. There's really been a lot of research on it from lots of different perspectives. You know, evolutionary psychologists really speak about bias in more of an adaptive sense, so our brain has developed these sort of shortcuts for situations that we've historically had to deal with-so threat avoidance, mating, social exchange, things like that. So our brain has developed these ways to make sure we're safe or pick ideal mates or just from an evolutionary perspective that it automatically does this. But the neuroscience of bias is probably the most interesting for me and I've most recently read about and looked into-there's been a lot of research on topics like facial recognition. So we know that shortly after birth, babies prefer to look at a human face over anything else, and within their first year of life they're able to start discerning more and are more likely to actually crawl towards friendly faces. They’re already picking up on these nuances and lots of different parts of the brain are working together just for the one thing of facial recognition, and we know they're starting to show these preferences. We also know that people are much better at recognizing faces of their own race rather than faces of other races. And this is something that occurs in all racial groups in the United States and in countries all over the world. So you know, our brain starts to build a preference for these faces that we see everyday and then beyond that, our brain wants to categorize, right? There's all this information coming in, we have to sort it, we have to make sense of it...and so it's really an efficiency for our brain. Again, also being adaptive to be able to manage this information overload. Constantly receiving information from our environment, how do we make sense of this? So if we think of those neuropsychological and evolutionary psychological perspectives, and we have this primitive survival part of our brain-and we know that that exists, right? You'll hear people sometimes say that the caveman part of your brain-that literally exists, you know all the way in the back like from back when we needed it -it's still there. And we think about how faces of our own race are more familiar to us and we're categorizing everything around us. And then when we take that and we combine it with the reality of our personal experiences with cultural upbringing. We add on racial profiling, we add on rigid gender roles, we add on social messaging. And what happens?

Miranda: That's a lot.

 

Noelle: Right? We start not being able to accept certain people, or we can't understand people who we perceive as so-called different from us. And we start favoring people who look like us and we lose sensitivity for people who don't. And so we begin to start having these subconscious beliefs that really have been prescribed, where we have these automatic thoughts that maybe certain people belong in certain places and do certain things. Because from an adaptive sense and a social sort of ecological sense, those two have combined to create sort of this breeding ground for this bias that we have.

Miranda: And then-that was a lot so thank you-and then on top of all that, these social categories that we create are tied to feelings and beliefs that begin to direct our actions. Our experiences live in our brain. Over time they reshape and dictate how we think, both consciously and subconsciously, and our brains just love a mental shortcut. Like you said, easy thinking is an evolutionary trap, just seeing something can bring up feelings and thoughts associated with an entire category and the stronger those associations, the faster those thoughts and feelings come to mind. It's because of this that we need to work to recognize that bias, both implicit and explicit. It's everywhere within all of us.

Noelle: Yeah, I mean like you said before, you know we all have bias. I think in our first episode we said that and we're going to keep repeating it because we really all do. And eventually it gets to the point where we want to start being able to recognize these so we can be aware and we can change how we're behaving. But let's talk a little bit-you mentioned explicit and implicit-so let's talk a little bit about the difference between them. In the case of explicit or conscious bias, the person is very clear about his or her feelings and attitudes, and then the related behavior is that they are conducting or with intent. It's a very intentional process so in its extreme, when we think about explicit bias, it's really characterized by this overt negative behavior where we're looking at physical harassment, verbal harassment, discrimination, or even through more subtle means, such as exclusion, right? So when we think about the act of purposefully leaving certain people out, that’s still explicitly bias. Implicit or unconscious bias, which is really mostly what we're going to talk about today, operates completely outside of people's awareness. And interestingly, or at least what I find the most interestingly about this topic, is that it can be in direct contradiction to a person's beliefs and values. And that's oftentimes what you'll hear when we start talking about bias, that's why it's so difficult to confront it. Because a lot of times it's completely against what you hold to be a value of yours. But what's so dangerous about implicit bias is that this is automatically seeping into someone's affect or behavior, and it's really outside of the awareness of that person, right? So if I'm not even aware I’m acting on these biases and my behavior is essentially being controlled by them in this way that I'm not even realizing, then the impacts can be damaging. So when we think about these implicit biases that we have, they are favoring our ingroup. Not only in terms of actions that we're engaging in, but when we think of our perceptions, bias can affect even just how we're perceiving reality, who we want to pay attention to, what we want to pay attention to, how we react to people, how much we're willing to comfort people in certain situations-so it can, under the surface, without even our awareness, be affecting that. The good news and what will get into, you know, is that our brains can change. So we used to have this concept in neuroscience, in old research, that we’re hard wired. Our brains are hardwired, we can't change. But we know from neuroscience now that our brains are malleable and with work many of these-in the case of bias, obviously in lots of areas, but specifically we're going to be talking about more bias today-these biases can be unlearned.

Miranda: Yeah and let me tell you, listening to all that, I'm just so happy to hear there's good news. When we start to break it down, the idea of doing this work can seem overwhelming at first, but really, there are some fairly easy things we can do to check ourselves. With that said, let's dive into some of the different types of implicit bias. Earlier we touched on what we know about the implications of bias and you mentioned ingroups and outgroups, right?

Noelle: Uh huh.

Miranda: It's a great example of Similarity Bias or Like Me Bias-it has a couple of different names. So I'm actually going to lead you through, our listeners, lead you all through an activity that will help you better understand this type of bias. Now if you're listening and you're driving right now, or you're somewhere where you can't participate, please, please do come back and listen to this later on. You can do it with friends, with family, you can even do it with your kids at home. It's important to start having these conversations and really just start recognizing ways that you can grow. So first you're going to need a blank sheet of paper. On your paper, on the left hand side, I want you to write the names or initials of 6 to 10 people that you trust the most who are not immediate family members. Well, family members in general. I'm going to read out some diversity dimensions. I want you to place a check mark beside the names that are similar to you within that dimension. So an example, I'm a woman, so I would place a check mark beside all women on my list. Someone that speaks Spanish as their native language would place a check mark beside all individuals on their list that also speak Spanish as their first language. Makes sense Noelle?

Noelle: Make sense.

 

Miranda: Perfect. Alright, so now that you've got your 6 to 10 names or initials down the left hand side of your paper, here go the dimensions. 

Check mark next to…

 

Someone that's the same gender as you.

Same nationality as you.

Speaks the same native language as you. 

Shares the same religious beliefs as you. 

Is roughly, I'd say, within one to two years of the same age as you. 

Shares the same professional background as you. 

And lastly, the same physical ability as you.

 

Noelle: OK, so if you had the opportunity to do that and actually write it down, or you're driving and you even were just thinking about it, kind of as you're going through your drive or whatever you're doing, you might start realizing that...ok, a lot of check marks are going down next to the names of these people. And again, you wouldn't be so off base for that, right? We know that's really the crux of similarity bias. For most participants, when we do this, we find that their lists includes people with background similar to their own and that's for lots of different reasons, right? We know, neurologically we're inclined to do this. We know socially and experientially in our life we are in situations where we might be around people more like us in certain situations-when we're developing friendships or we’re in school you know, we're at work. Particularly for majority groups, like when we’re talking on the first episode, for White people underestimating how they’re always represented where they are. So again, it's not uncommon for this to be the case, we’re inclined to surround ourselves and connect with other people that are most like us, and then we tend to disproportionately favor people that are similar to us.

Miranda: And that's where the issue lies.

Noelle: Right.

Miranda: So that part, disproportionately favoring people, it really hit home for me. As a manager, someone who hires people, it really caused me to look at the ways in which this may affect my team. So if I'm more inclined to automatically connect with and favor people similar to me, then this can create lack of diversity in hiring. So I think about within my company, the folks that hold positions, presidents, CEOs, general managers, things like that. Predominantly male, predominantly the higher you go-White. And so if we don't have diversity in admin positions or folks that are higher up in companies it can and does continue to perpetuate this cycle. And really is just limiting. If we're always around people like us, how often do we get introduced to new perspectives and different views? In what ways are we being challenged to grow if we're not around people that present different experiences?

 

Noelle: Yeah because again, we spoke about this on the first episode, really trying to have those experiences that we might not even realize 'cause we're sort of insulated with people like me. This whole Like Me bias. It's like anything else, if I only eat one type of food and I never venture out to any other different types of food, I never realized that there might be other food that I actually like. I mean, the same concept, right? I mean, at a basic level it kind of works the same way. You've gotta be willing to kind of take those risks and in speaking honestly about it. That's the reality. If you haven't been around people of other races, if you grew up in communities where it was mostly just your race or your ethnicity, or people that were mostly from your background, it can feel uncomfortable to do that sometimes because it might not feel natural for you to do that, but you know I think it's important to be able to, like you said, grow in that way. Be able to have these other perspectives where we’re able to learn from other people. And on top of this idea of Similarity Bias which involves the people around us, there is also Confirmation Bias, which is really about the information around us. And really at the core of this, people are prone to believe what they want to believe. Unfortunately.

Miranda: Makes sense.

Noelle: And when people would like a certain idea or concept  to be true, they end up believing it to be true and they're motivated by this wishful thinking. And these errors that can happen really lead the person to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered confirms their view or their prejudice. So, I think this way and I seek out the information that confirms that. As soon as it confirms it, I stop and I don't need to look at any other perspective or keep gathering anymore information because I've proved myself to be true.

Miranda: Right, that's good old confirmation bias. I swear humans just like to be right, right? So once we’ve formed a view, we’ll take any and all information that further confirms that view, just like you said, while ignoring or rejecting any information that challenges said view. And the really interesting thing is, even when we read or hear the same story-I was amazed at this-so when reading or listening to the same story, our bias tends to shape the way that we perceive the details, further confirming our beliefs. I mean, even listening to the same story. That is crazy to me. So this is actually a reason why eyewitness testimony can't be used in court because our bias towards specific groups of people because of our bias towards specific groups of people are testimony, sways for or against them rather than being factual.

Noelle: Yeah, and another part of that is that we sort of distort facts to make them fit what we believe? You know, so really again, when we think about it, it's adaptive right? Our brain is always wanting to be comfortable or always wanting to have the shortcut. And what we know about confirmation bias is that the effect of it is stronger for emotionally charged issues, for these issues where people are really emotionally invested in them, super charged up about it, and for these deeply entrenched beliefs. And even though a certain stereotype about a social group might not be true for an individual, we tend to remember-we have almost like memory bias-where we tend to remember the stereotype consistent information better than any disconfirming evidence. So I could have one situation that I encounter that confirms the stereotype belief I have, and I remember that better than the 10 miss confirming situations that happen. So again, this idea in psychology, we have this theory called cognitive dissonance, and it's really this idea of this mental conflict that occurs when someone holds two contradictory beliefs and it can actually cause psychological distress, unease in a person, to have these two conflicting beliefs. And exposure to disconfirming information actually results in negative emotions. Something that is non existent when we're seeking reinforcing evidence. So, I have this belief, I seek information, and I find information that confirms it. It's reinforcing to me, it feels good to my brain. Right? Like that's ideal, ok perfect. But then we have this belief and there's something that disconfirms that. I reject that because this feels uncomfortable, this is challenging, I believed this for 30 years. How could this be? I can't shift from this, it's too much...and my brain will conveniently forget this much quicker than one thing that confirms it. So to minimize the dissonance, people really adapt to confirmation bias and they're avoiding this contradictory information, they're seeking the confirming information and it just becomes this cycle.

Miranda: Honestly, our brains just have a really interesting way of processing to make sense of things. So some food for thought for everyone is the surgeon's dilemma riddle. We actually posted this as an activity on our social media pages. For anyone listening that participated-a big shout out to you, we definitely needed those answers, so thank you. It was much appreciated. So I actually heard this growing up as a riddle so already knew the answer, but some of the responses we got...well, again, it's just fascinating how the mind reasons and tries to make sense of things. So let's see if you can figure it out. A father and son were involved in a car accident in which the father was killed and the son was seriously injured. The father was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and his body was taken to a local morgue. The son was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and was immediately wheeled into an operating room. The surgeon was called in and upon entering. and seeing the patient, the surgeon gasped-It's my son! Can you explain this and how could this be? So we got answers like-he was adopted at birth, so it's the boy's real father, the father that died was a priest, so he's just called the Father, but the surgeon was his actual father. A couple of people said the boy had two dads. Even that the boy was kidnapped. I don't know how that makes sense, but you know, the mind made sense of it. What was your answer?

Noelle: I said stepfather.

Miranda: I was a little disappointed in you Noelle

 

Noelle: I knoooow!

Miranda: Oh man, so look, roughly 40% of participants in the actual scientific study, and a whopping 65% or 20 out of 31 people in our just for fun study, didn't think of the most reasonable answer that the surgeon is the boy's mother. A woman folks, a woman!

Noelle:: Right? Women can be surgeons.

Miranda: Whaaaat? 

Noelle: When I saw it I was so disappointed with myself. I'm like God

Miranda: How are you doing this podcast Noelle? And you didn't even get that right?

Noelle: But you know it is a good lesson, right? We all have these things, and this particular riddle is an example of Representativeness bias. So we estimate the likelihood of something by comparing it to this existing prototype that already exists in our minds. Again, going back to the categorizing that our brains do. So our prototype of what we can think is the most relevant or typical example of a particular event or object, or something that we're seeing-what happens is that this really impacts our ability to critically think. Which is clearly apparent from the challenge. When people are making a--trying to pull anything to get to the surgeon has to be a man, right? Like, what scenarios can I concoct in this situation for this surgeon to just be a man? And the father fit right into the role of surgeon, even though it's seemingly impossible. I mean, we had to make him get kidnapped! Yeah, all these crazy things, but we have such a hard time considering that the woman could be the surgeon. And I mean, ok. Statistically speaking we know this is unlikely. We know when we look at surgeons it's a very small number of them that are women, which is a whole other topic we're going to get into in our future podcast episodes, but it's really about the ability to critically examine information. When you go back now that you know the answer is mother and you read that story, it's obvious. And critically being able to take these details and have it point to some other possible explanation that defies what we typically hold to be true-that's really, you know-the bias. That our brain automatically just goes there.

Miranda: Yeah, well lucky for us like we've been saying, bias can be changed overtime. Thank goodness, so you know, women can be surgeons. In a recent 2019 study, data revealed how certain implicit attitudes in American Society have changed from 2007-2016. Attitudes about sexual orientation change the fastest with anti gay bias decreasing by about 33% over that 10 year period that I shared, and it predicts a consistent decrease over time. Meaning that anti gay bias could reach complete neutrality or zero bias sometime between 2025 and 2045

Noelle: Oh my God.

Miranda: Which is huge! Coming from a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, that was normal to me and moving to Florida you know, it is on trend, it's normal, more normalized now at least in larger cities, but I'm so happy to hear that. And then our implicit attitudes towards race and skin tone are also moving towards neutrality. Progress that, while not nearly as rapid as anti gay bias, is still noteworthy. And then there's some groups that the data doesn't show progress for. There's still negativity towards the elderly, folks with disabilities. In fact, change in attitudes have been so slow for both of those groups that forecasts suggest it could take well over 150 years for either bias to reach neutrality. And so we talk about really having experiences with people unlike you or different than you, and that right there is proof as to why. And then there's implicit weight bias, which is actually increased by 40% between 2014 and 2010. So again, these ideas that we have in our mind, whether we're aware of them or not, it's important to expose yourself to people that are different than you.

Noelle: Yeah, and I think when we think about that research there's lots of hypothesis of why anti gay bias is decreasing and why we're seeing that the anti racism bias is decreasing. So obviously we've had a lot of activism in those areas. I think it's more prevalent that we're having these conversations and we're talking about it. We think about things like Pride and celebrations, and different racial events that have really, unfortunately, some of the events that we've had that have sparked conversation in the news. But like you  said, the fact remains that there's a lot of attitudes that we still need to continue working on and still need to be addressed, and the progress doesn't happen on his own.So we have people out there-you were talking before-about the managers, people in positions of power within companies, researchers, educators, policy makers...and then citizens. All these different levels of society, we all have to own this. We need to engage in really deliberate thought and consciously enacted policies that will motivate behavior and attitude change in the direction that we want as a society. Humanistic equity. I know in this podcast that's what we stand for and what you're going to talk about a lot. And you know, that's really the direction that we need to go. And there's ways that it can be done. Fighting confirmation bias is one that you can do every day in your own life, right? Really quickly. The take home lesson is just really to set your hypothesis, set what your thought is, and look for instances to prove yourself wrong. You know, I mean,that’s the true test of self confidence. Being able to look at the world without this need to consistently please your ego. And like you said, this need to be right. You know that the world is evolving, the world is changing. Things how they were 30 years ago and aren't how they are now, right? We hope as humans we do get better and so we need to start taking some of those really ingrained beliefs that we have or these issues that emotionally charged us and start asking ourselves-one, why? And two, how can I explore this and maybe find some other information to kind of disprove it? And be critical of the information that you're hearing. I'm not saying prove your bias, that your idea is wrong by just finding anything and saying it's true, but really, truly being critical of the information that's out there in the media, things that we’ve seen here. The term is media literacy, but really having that critical thinking lens when you're consuming all of this information. We've talked about having this intergroup contact, really trying to make efforts or thinking about what are the spaces that you occupy, or are we trying to-do we find diversity to be important? I think for me, that was something that was always important. I wanted diversity in my friendship, I wanted to have that as a part of my life. So if you haven't, what are some ways that you can? Through conversations or something that maybe you wouldn't have done before. Taking an opportunity to just kind of cross a racial line or cross an ethnic line and have a connection with someone. Maybe there is a neighbor in your neighborhood which you’ve never spoken to before...or something like that. Trying to increase some of those connections and then just really learning to challenge and counter some of these common stereotypes that we hear and then working to replace the negative stereotypes. The really trying to-instead of having our brains remember this one confirming piece over these all other disconfirming pieces-really look to remember these situations or experiences that you have that disconfirm these negative stereotypes that are pervasive in our society.

Miranda: Yeah, I mean really, it's critical thinking skills, right? Or I think about any type of time in your life where you've tried to grow. You have to focus on whatever it is that you're trying to change and then you become more mindful of it and then you can take a step back and be like...wait. And you take a bird's eye view, right? You're on the outside looking in. OK, so what's right about this? What's wrong about this? How can I change my thought process? So Lastly, and most importantly for today, please like we've said, start becoming aware of your biases. The data that I shared earlier, it's actually from a Harvard study that looked at 4.4 million IAT’s or Implicit Association tests, you can actually take them on the Project Implicit site at Implicit.Harvard.edu. It's free and they cover a range of bias categories like religion, race, how we connect gender to specific careers, sexuality, skin tone, weight, and a bunch of other ones as well. We would love to hear about your journey and what you've learned, so please listen out for our social pages after the episode wrap up.

Noelle: Yes! I can't wait, just like when we did the surgeon one. I mean, we were on there looking up, waiting for these answers

Miranda: What are people saying?

 

Noelle: Yes, so if you take any of the IAT’s please send us what your results are. It just will be super interesting to hear and we can talk about that on another episode. So thank you so much for joining us today. Next week we're going to be exploring systemic racism, its roots, and our long road to recovery. And really learning that all systems are in fact not a go.

Miranda: Not ok.

Noelle: We really need to dive deep into this, unpack just like we did with bias. Just kind of all these different systems that are really perpetuating oppression and inequity in our country.

Miranda: Alright, and that's it, bye.

Noelle: Thank you, bye.

[Outro music plays]

Miranda: The Unpacked Project is produced by Vicky Lee. Branding and Marketing by Raquel Avalos.

Noelle: Show us some love and be sure to like, subscribe and review our podcast. And to stay connected and up-to-date, follow us on Instagram at the_unpacked project.

Miranda: Shout out to all of our listeners who unpacked with us today, we’ll see you next week.

Noelle: Peace!

Miranda: Ayye byyeee