How well do we know ourselves? And more importantly, how do we know what's affecting our judgments and biases? The Cycle got a little existential Tuesday afternoon when the hosts talked to Dr. Mahzarin Banaji.
Her new book "Blind Spot" says that our attitudes towards things like race, gender, sexuality, age, and politics are formed by "mindbugs": learned habits that impair the brain's ability to perceive things as they truly are. Banaji says that culture and societal interactions inform what our minds know. She gives the example that "I know that more women than men are nurses. I know that more men than women are neurosurgeons. That's not something I was born knowing; that's something I have come to learn through life and through experience."
Dr. Banaji's quest for where our bias comes from may have turned up where birther sympathies come from. Research found that "many of us carry a very strong association between American and white." And this implicit bias could inform the way that some people vote. If we extend this line of thought, and function under the premise that to be American is to be white, than we may be more inclined to vote for McCain over Obama or Mitt Romney over Obama.
So if many people carry around the mindbugs and biases that Banaji describes--assuming that non-white means non-American--could we all be a little bit birther? Maybe. But Dr. Banaji tells The Cycle hosts that because our brains are not "simple, passive recipients of information," we can push back against our assumptions. "Some of us have used the power of our conscious minds to tell ourselves that that information simply is not correct, whereas others have not done that," she explains, "And that's really the difference."
Over 14 million people have taken Dr. Banaji's test to help measure stereotyping and implicit bias. You can, too, at implict.harvard.edu. Just be sure to take the research version so you don't end up like Steve Kornacki, wondering what vehicles and furniture have to do with your political or racial bias.