Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hidden Bias & Behavior

Have you ever said or heard anyone else say any of the following phrases:

"That's so gay" ; "You're retarded"; or "That's so ghetto"

I'm sure many of you have. How did you feel after using any of those phrases or hearing someone else use them? Some of you probably thought to yourselves "its just another slang phrase and it's no big deal," right? Some of you may have felt uncomfortorable, yet kept your thoughts to yourselves. Some may have wanted to make a remark, yet didn't know how to or what to say. Well, believe it or not, saying these phrases can actually be indicators of a hidden or unconcious "bias" in our minds that we are completely unaware of. These hidden biases are believed to not only affect our own behaviors, but also distort the way we interpret other people's behaviors around us.

Bias is defined as perpetulated socialization by a culture at large. A strong example of this is media. The media often paints people or things to be a certain way and classifies them among a certain stereotype. For example, due to mass media people are pressured to believe that only tall skinny models resemble beauty, that old people are weak and forgetful, and young people are full of more energy and brainpower. However, not every single person in the world falls into those stereotypes. Another example would be our casual "slips of the tongue". When we are placed in tense situations we are more likely to portray our true implicit attitudes and say things we didn't really want to say.

Many old and recent studies have shown a significant link between hidden bias and actual behavior. So basically hidden biases can reveal themsevles in physical actions. Some of these actions include eye contact, blinking rates, and number of smiles. The following are some very interesting examples:

* One experiment showed that white interviewers sat father away from black applicants than white applicants during an intervew process, made more frequent speech errors, and ended the interviews at about 25% sooner.
* Another study found that when women were constantly being reminded that they are bad at math, their performance started to fulfill this prophecy. ( hence the term self-fulfilling prophecy)

* One other study showed that subjects who had stronger hidden race bias in their brains had more activity in the part of the brain that deals with emotional learning when shown black faces than when shown white faces.

All of us are bound to have some kind of hidden bias that we are unaware of. Determining what exactly the hidden bias locked up in our minds is could be the first step towards understanding them and changing them in order to become better people. Fortunately, there have been many tests developed over the years to help people uncover some of the possible hidden biases in their minds and the results can be surprising! You can try one at this website:

SOURCES: http://www.tolerance.org/activity/test-yourself-hidden-bias


  1. I find it really interesting because people use those "slang" phrases all the time without even thinking about it. You never really think that what you say when your joking around is actually a hidden bias that you have and saying those phrases is a way to express it.

  2. Great post! I am taking an Education class this semester and we had a lecture last week on the same exact subject. My professor even referred to the phrase, "thats so gay". He listed many stereotypical phrases and how it affects the person that allegedly falls under that category.

  3. yeah i like that you posted this. I use those phases all the time. Not only i feel guilty after saying them, i wish i didnt say them. I think its mostly because alot of people say phases like that, they just come out. Only way i think to stop this is to, simply, not say it at all.
    Also, i find the first study to be true. In alot of classes, i find people with the samerace will sit next to each other if they know no one in that class.

  4. People tend to make comments very prematurely about people they don't even know. I hear people make comments like that all the time. I have to say that it starts with the parents at home and the children only live what they see. the only reason i say that these biases start at home is because when we grow up we see a lot and hear a lot of different things. We are not born with these biases but unfortunately they exist and i don't see them going away anytime soon unless you live in a bubble!!!

  5. GC I completely agree with you but have a little more to add. Children definitely learn about these biases from home but I also believe that they learn it from their peers at school. Growing up, I don't think I ever heard my parents say "that's so gay" or "that's retarded" and I had no older siblings that would have influenced me. Any type of "slang" I may have picked up was through my peers at school. It is true that those children most likely learned those biases from home and then shared their new found knowledge with other naive children such as myself. Spreading biases such as the ones mentioned in this post seems to be a never ending cycle.

  6. the worst thing is when a comment like that is made and the person is unaware of the audience that they are speaking to. For one, they may not be aware that one of the people in that crows is, in fact, a homosexual. OR, they may be oblivious to the affiliations that these people may have with a gay friend or family member, thus offending them by association. Growing up in a small town in conservative north jersey I ran into this problem all of the time. I always had close gay friends, and when i would come home and be around people I didn't know very well and they would use slang like this it would really offend me. I'm a heterosexual female, but it really made my blood boil!!! I'm not here to try and force my opinion on others in any way shape or form, but I expect the same in return. I didn't walk up to them and preach of equality and fairness, so I don't expect to be berated with judgment and prejudice (yes, that was meant to be brash :) )