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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 23-Sep-11


Friday 23-September-11

Bias and imagination

Bias is a part of the human condition. In fact many animals will distinguish between 'one of us' and 'one of them'. If you're not in our pack or our sub-species then you will be singled out for aggressive treatment. There is evolutionary sense in it, though in our complex state, humans also fight back in the name of fair play and what is good and right.

Breaking down and eliminating bias has become a modern obsession as we try to create global communities, and laws continue to be formed to help the process along. It therefore becomes an urgent necessity as well as a socially fair and decent thing. The display of bias can bring lawsuits as well as criticism.

So the question of how to reduce bias is a very real one. One way that is known to work is to meet and get to know members of the out-group against which you are biased. Almost always you find that they do not conform to the views you may have of them. By definition, stereotypes are exaggerated and simplified. Real people are more complex and more, well, human. It also helps when your friends have other friends in the out-group, as we assume that the friends of our friends can't be that bad (after all, we are also friends of out friends).

It goes further. In recent experiments, researchers Rhiannon Turner and Richard Crisp found that just imagining a positive contact with out-group members had a significant effect on beliefs about them. Repeating the experiment for imaginary encounters groups with elderly and Muslim people had the same effect.

Bias, it seems, is a fragile belief, and there is little excuse now not to tackle it head on where it happens: inside your mind.

Turner, R., & Crisp, R. (2009). Imagining intergroup contact reduces implicit prejudice. British Journal of Social Psychology

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