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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cultural biases and our unconscious proclivities

I’ve written on this topic before and recently revisited the Project Implicit study at Harvard. They’ve built a virtual laboratory where “visitors can examine their own hidden biases.” The web tests measure which direction we subconsciously lean when it comes to certain “pairs” of traits. For instance, some of the pairings include fat-thin, native-American white, light-dark skin, and many more.

A lot of people probably want to believe they don’t have a strong bias one way or the other. Unfortunately, the facts reveal otherwise. Now that nearly 5 million people have taken the test, here are some sad “truths”: over 80% of the experimenters subconsciously demonstrate negativity toward the elderly versus younger people. The same statistics apply for black skin to white skin. And, not surprisingly, most of the people who took the tests were initially unaware of their biases.

So what is it about so many people’s thoughts and feelings that cause such disparities? Our heritage and upbringing? The media? And perhaps an even more significant question is, “How can we narrow the gap?”

The deeply contemplative Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote: "Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind."

Do you have any ideas on how we as a global society and massively interconnected populace can improve this state? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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