You don’t have to be consciously bigoted to harbor social biases that harm others. Indeed, implicit association tests demonstrate that most of us harbor subtle biases, even if we don’t know about them. These biases can affect how we react to and judge others, but are notoriously challenging to eliminate.
A small study published in Science suggests a novel approach to eliminating bias. Researchers found that training and deep-sleep reminders can steadily erode prejudicial beliefs.
Training and Reminders for Eliminating Bias
Implicit biases take years to acquire. They’re the sorts of things you pick up from the news, family and friends, and from subtle differences in how people are portrayed in books. For most people, our society offers a steady dose of training in subtle biases. As overtly sexist and racist beliefs have become more socially unacceptable, implicit biases have taken their place. And because most people don’t want to hold bigoted beliefs, they may not notice or acknowledge their implicit biases.
Previous studies have found that counter-training can help eliminate implicit biases. For instance, a person who pictures a man when he or she pictures a scientist could abandon this belief by repeatedly exposing himself/herself to images of women scientists. Exposure to media stereotypes, though, can undo this training.
Researchers recruited 40 white male and female participants to test out a new approach. To test for existing biases, researchers administered an implicit association test that measured bias against women and people of color. The scores revealed subtle racial and gender biases.
Participants were then shown images designed to counteract these biases. For instance, when participants had a negative bias against black people, images such as a black person above the word “sunshine” were designed to counteract the phenomenon. Researchers also played a sound during the images so that participants would associate the sound with the counter-bias image. As researchers expected, participants’ biases decreased after this training.
Researchers also asked participants to take a 90-minute nap after the training, but not all participants agreed to do so. Those who did nap listened to the counter-bias sound while in deep sleep. Researchers suspected that doing so would capitalize on the learning consolidation that occurs during deep sleep by reminding participants of their training.
Participants who took a nap showed a further reduction in biased attitudes. A week later, researchers administered another implicit bias test to all participants, including those who didn’t take the 90-minute nap. They found that the effects of the counter-bias training lingered for those who took the nap, but not for those who didn’t. This, they say, not only sheds light on a possible avenue for diminishing bias, but also on the important role sleep plays in learning.
Saxena, R. (2015, June 5). Social biases unlearned via training and deep sleep reminders. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/06/social-biases-unlearned-via-training-and-deep-sleep-reminders/
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