No matter whom we are as people or where we come from; our beliefs or assumptions are shaped by our experiences, upbringing, race, gender, in the facts we choose to accept, and even the biased shortcuts our brains take to process information can cloud our judgment. In some sense our own biases don’t always happen consciously and is just the filter we are seeing the world through. Take this experiment that helps show these biases.
A fascinating study looked at unconscious bias of gender in orchestras. In the 1970s and 80s orchestras were mostly made up of dudes. An estimated 5% had been a female. Apparently men play differently if not better. In 1952, the Boston Symphony orchestra started an experiment by having blind auditions instead of face to face. A person had to perform behind a screen for tryouts. Funny enough, there was no immediate change until the judges asked the performers to take her or his shoes off before entering the room because the clickety-clack of the heels against the hardwood floor was enough to give the ladies away.
The results of the additions showed a 50% increase of female musicians getting past the second stage and almost tripled the chances of getting into the company. These findings show that there was no difference between genders but the perception that men play differently. It was the bias that determined the outcome. What was done here was that a bias existed. We all use these shortcuts to help process information quickly and efficiently.
Take this example. A son and his mother are in a horrendous car accident. The mother dies on impact in the son is severely injured and is rushed to the hospital. The surgeon looks at the son and says, “I cannot operate on this boy because he is my son. How can that be?
Ladies and gentlemen this surgeon was his mother. Please raise your hand if you thought the surgeon was a dude. It is all right as long as we acknowledge these biases exist in ways to move past the different thinking with solutions. More importantly is to realize that our brains as humans are wired to make assumptions and shortcuts to process information to make our cognitive loads more manageable. If we live in a world where the circumstances of our birth don’t dictate our future and equal opportunity is ambiguous then we all have a role to play in making our unconscious biases don’t determine our lives. I’m glad to say you don’t have to feel like a bad person. Our ancestors on the savannas had to make quick judgments like is this beast going eat or be friendly to me.
The research shows that our brains have developed these biases as a defense mechanism but is also important to realize that these biases are not always about people. We have biases like confirmation bias where we think something is true our brains will only take in new information to confirm the thinking. Then there is affinity bias where we like individuals similar to ourselves. We have cognitive shortcuts around colors like red. The color red can be interpreted as a sign for danger or love. Our brains have a lot of these shortcuts. Does that then explain our anatomy?
Yes, we have our amygdala that is the reptilian part that controls the fight or flight response but then we have the prefrontal cortex; the “thinking” part of the brain that can override the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex can say I have a fight or flight instinct but I will just override it because that person is in my out group but I still can interact with him or her or I have evolved enough to realize that this person is not a threat.
Look at bias another way when we look at individuals like, Marshall Sheppard, a climatologist whom believesa climate change is 150% real. In Ted Talk he says he is asked these questions 1) Do you believe in climate change? 2) Do you believe in global warming? He becomes rather flustered because these are the proposed questions. Science is not a belief system! When we were little we believed in the tooth fairy. Consider this, you never hear anyone say, “Do you believe if we go to the top of a building and throw a ball off it is going to fall to the ground?” We never hear that because gravity is a thing, so why don’t we hear the question do you believe in gravity but of course we hear the question do you believe in climate change?
There are 83 to 87% of scientists that know humans are contributing to global warming but only 50% of the public. Dosages expect the question what shapes perception on science? I think one thing that molds our view on science our belief systems and biases. I challenge you to follow my thinking for a moment because I want to speak to three elements: confirmation bias, Dunning- Krueger effect, and cognitive dissidents.
Confirmation bias means we seek out information that already confirms what we think to be true. We can see this in the radio stations we listen to or the television networks we choose to watch. I know with the recent snow falls in Wisconsin and Minnesota, we think, I have 20 inches of climate change in my front yard. Climate change is definitely real. Yeah, that is a cute thought and it makes me chuckle. The statement is so unequivocally ill-proposed because it illustrates that a person to understand the difference between weather and climate.
Weather is your mood climate is your personality. A person’s mood today would not tell us anything about the personality nor does how much snow we have received about climate change. That comparison, typically, is steeped in one’s comparison of weather and climate but is an inherent bias that they do not believe in climate change.
The Dunning- Krueger effect is when a person thinks they know more than they do or underestimate what they don’t know about a topic. We see this all the time on Twitter or our current president. The point is that we all exhibit the Dunning Kruger effect but we need to let the experts be experts on a topic (https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2017/01/24/the-dunning-kruger-effect-shows-why-some-people-think-theyre-great-even-when-their-work-is-terrible/#2b9be34c5d7c).
Lastly we have cognitive dissidents. It is having the faith in something that is not rooted in reality. The cognitive dissonance towards climate changes is we are dismissing the scientific evidence that supports it but we are wondering whether or not the groundhog will see its shadow
The advice I give students is go through the world with curiosity and recognize that we have an idea of how that person might be but also that our thinking might be wrong. To not pity the person asking for help but pity the individuals who choose not to help. I hope, Evann, the reason why we have not been talking is because of your questioning things but my rebuttal is I will never stop giving to you. In addition, I hope we can still meet on Saturday in the cities.
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