Babies teach us that we can lessen our bias
Researchers have long suspected that, in early childhood, we develop a positive bias for people like us and a negative bias for everyone else. But in July, after observing how 456 infants aged eight to 16 months reacted to speakers of their native tongue versus speakers of another language, scientists at the Social Cognitive Development Lab at the University of British Columbia debunked the second half of that assumption.
Researcher Anthea Pun and her team measured English-speaking infants’ level of surprise while watching puppets behave badly. While the babies appeared to be startled by a cruel English speaker—confirmed by the fact that they gazed for much longer at the villain—they acted indifferent to a French foil, displaying no expectation, good or bad. Negative judgments, Pun speculated, are not innate, but instead learned.
If infants’ lack of prejudice inspires you to examine your own, researchers have pinpointed tools to help individuals recognize and overcome their unintentional bias.
One of those, explains Dr. William Cox of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is to take time to actively replace assumptions. “When you have a stereotypical thought or when you are exposed to a stereotypical portrayal, it reinforces that stereotype in your mind,” says Cox. He suggests stopping in those moments, recognizing the bias and actively calling to mind a different, but true, idea that counteracts it.
To learn more about improving yourself, check out How to Be a Good Person, According to Science!