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Is the ‘Hidden Brain’ Behind Some Health Disparities? – The NIH Record – May 9, 2014

Is the ‘Hidden Brain’ Behind Some Health Disparities? – The NIH Record – May 9, 2014.

Excerpts

Turns out, it wasn’t the devil that made you do it. It was your “hidden brain.” That’s what Shankar Vedantam suggested at a recent lecture on unconscious bias at work, part of the 2013-2014 Deputy Director for Management Seminar Series. Vedantam said he “coined the term ‘hidden brain’ to describe mental activities that happen outside our conscious awareness.

“Is it possible,” he wondered, “that some of the [health] disparities we’re seeing are not the result of bad people behaving badly, but of well-intentioned people who are unintentionally doing the wrong thing? Is it possible that unconscious biases of well-intentioned people are responsible for these disparities that we observe?”

 

A science correspondent with National Public Radio whose reporting focuses on human behavior and the sciences, Vedantam suggested that sometimes the snap judgments or preconceived notions we exhibit turn out to be wrong not because we’re evil people but because we’re not concentrating on what we’re doing. Our brains are, in a sense, functioning on autopilot.

To illustrate false moves we make automatically, Vedantam showed several optical illusions that indicated how unconscious bias doesn’t just distort perception, but often alters the way things really are.

“Our minds change reality to reflect the biases that we have inside our own heads,” he explained.

Reading, Vedantam said, is a perfect example of the hidden brain at work. Once you learn to read and are accustomed to reading, he said, your mind takes shortcuts. You naturally skip or fill in, without consciously thinking about it. Unlike a new reader, then, you don’t register every single word on a page. Otherwise, you’d spend all day reading just one page.

In the same way, Vedantam argues, your mind in many cases anticipates—pre-judges—situations throughout daily life.

So, how do we overcome the effects that unconscious biases have on us? Vedantam says we can pay closer attention to our decision-making in certain situations, recognize the way we’re leaning and simply tug our minds in the opposite direction. In addition, since our environment shapes our mind, we can surround ourselves with experiences and friendships outside our comfort zone. If you broaden what goes into your thinking, then you broaden what comes out of it.

 

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May 10, 2014 - Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , ,

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