Your Biases And Beliefs Are Impacting Your Decision-Making
Neuroscience helps to better understand people and the decisions they make.
Posted Jun 30, 2017
I recently attended an event and found myself involved in an engaging discussion with a particular woman, who I'll call "Jane". At some point, she brought up a former relationship she had with a man, who I'll refer to as "John".
Jane met John while he was separated from his wife, and they began dating. During the course of their relationship, they presented themselves to the world as a typical couple. Their friends and family knew they were a couple and they attended events and socialized with their respective friends together, as couples typically do. At some point, they even discussed getting married after John's current marriage was legally terminated upon his wife's death. You see, she was terminally ill. Although it's unclear how many months or years might pass before she would be taken by her illness, it was understood that their marriage would be terminated through death, rather than divorce.
Jane and John's relationship ended when John "reconciled" with his dying wife. The reason for their reconciliation centered around his concern for how he would otherwise be judged by others, including their children, upon her passing.
After his "reconciliation", John proposed to Jane that their relationship and future plans not "end"; instead, they go "into the closet" with their relationship. In other words, their relationship and anticipated future marriage would continue as planned, except for the manner in which they presented themselves to the outside world until his wife's death. He proposed that they become covert ("closeted") with everyone about their relationship and that he be perceived by everyone else as having reconciled with his dying wife.
Jane understood John's concerns, but she didn't like the feelings she was experiencing over the thought of having a "closeted" relationship with John until some time after his wife's death, so their relationship ended.
Jane's use of the word "closeted" and phrase "in the closet" throughout her story resonated deeply with me because being "closeted" or living "in the closet" is always for fear of being judged poorly by others.
Being "closeted" or living "in the closet" doesn't change anything other than how someone presents themselves to the world. Essentially, it's a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and occurs because of our need to belong.
According to social science researcher, Brene' Brown, "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are."
When people believe they won't be accepted for who they are or what they do by those whose acceptance they crave, they tend to become "closeted" or live "in the closet", rather than being their authentic selves.
What I found most interesting about Jane's use of the word "closeted" and phrase living "in the closet" was that such terminology is typically associated with LGBT people, as was the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
An LGBT person who is "closeted" or living "in the closet" is still gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. They just present themselves otherwise to the outside world because of their need for acceptance.
It's important to understand what being "closeted" or living "in the closet" means in that regard; particularly in light of Jane's reaction to John's proposal that they do just that with their relationship until some time after his wife's death.
When an LGBT person is "closeted" or living "in the closet", it's not intended for some limited period of time in which circumstances change, such that they won't be judged. The circumstances aren't similar to Jane's in which they could "come out of the closet" at some point after John's wife's death. The circumstances are incredibly different.
If an LGBT person is "closeted" or living "in the closet", they are presenting themselves to the world as something they're not -- straight and cisgendered (gender normative).
Should they become romantically involved with someone of their same gender, they handle that relationship similar to the way in which John had proposed to Jane that they handle their relationship. The only difference - and it's enormous - has to do with the reasons why they are in the closet. Those reasons don't change upon the death of one of their terminally ill spouses because they're about the stigma, bigotry, and discrimination associated with who they are - their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Unfortunately, that doesn't change upon the occurance of a specific event.
When an LGBT person is "closeted" or living "in the closet", they do anything and everything they can to present themselves as being straight and cisgendered. As such, if they're a gay man, for example, they must present themselves as though they are attracted only to women. This means that they will typically "date" women and, not infrequently, marry them, and even procreate with them. The women they date and/or marry become what's known as their "beard".
"Beard is a slang term describing a person who is used, knowingly or unknowingly, as a date, romantic partner (boyfriend or girlfriend), or spouse either to conceal infidelity or to conceal one's sexual orientation. The American slang term originally referred to anyone who acted on behalf of another, in any transaction, to conceal a person's true identity. The term can be used in heterosexual and homosexual contexts, but is especially used within LGBT culture."
Very often, the person they're dating or to whom they're married has no idea that they are being used as a "beard". Ponder the phrase "being used" for just a moment. How do people typically feel upon learning or even perceiving that they've been "used"?
I've felt "used" in one way or another at various times in my life and I felt angry, frustrated, disrespected, sad, grief striken, treated unfairly, shame, humiliation, betrayal, and unloved. That's just how I felt "being used."
I can only imagine how I would feel if I were used as someone's "beard", we procreated together, and they later "came out" and I found myself having to co-parent with my user and being tied together with them for life through our children.
Now, try and imagine how the person using the "beard" must feel. I've been in those shoes before and know I felt at the time. I felt anger for my need for a "beard" to "fit in" and be "accepted. I also felt frustrated, a sense of injustice and unfairness, disrespect, fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, shame, mistrusting, unloved for my true self, and unlovable.
Try and imagine living your life in such a manner and the toll it would take on your psyche.
When describing to others a person your authentic self finds attractive, you'd have to describe them by a different gender. If you were dating someone of your same gender or even married to them, you'd change their gender when describing them to others. You most certainly wouldn't be seen publicly with them, and if you were, you'd describe your relationship as "friends" or "colleagues." You'd never be able to go on a "double date" with your friends or associates, unless you brought a "beard", rather than your actual significant other. In fact, you may never live together with your significant other, and, heaven forbid you register as domestic partners or marry because doing so would create a public record.
Being "closeted" or living "in the closet" feels safe because you "fit in" and are accepted by others for who they perceive you to be. After all, people can't judge that which they don't know.
If you are a child and you "come out" to your parents, they might subject you to Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, commonly known as reparative therapy, conversion therapy and ex-gay therapy. Such efforts can't and won't change the fact that you're gay. Like it or not, it's an aspect of your self and not a behavior which can be changed.
Because of your innate need for belonging, you might become "closeted" again or go back "into the closet". However, understand that doing so is about presenting yourself as someone other than who you are in order to "fit in" and be "accepted". Irrespective, as Dr. Brown says, "fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are."
If you didn't feel accepted before, just try and imagine how you would feel after your parents subjected you to Sexual Orientation Change Efforts.
Irrespective of what your parents may or may not have done, as an adult, you might even try such things because of your need for belonging, rather than just "fitting in".
Regardless, such efforts only deepen the feelings you have about being gay and destroy any hope you may have had to ever experience belonging.
"Hope is a positive emotion, which coexists with fear, and instilling hope seems to be more of a doable task than getting rid of fear."
The destruction of hope creates despair and a sense of hoplessness, which can literally be lethal to yourself and/or others. Suicides and murders often occur as a direct result of a sense of hopelessness.
There are very real reasons why States are increasingly criminalizing the use of Sexual Orienation Change Efforts on minors. As far as adults are concerned, we have a great many freedoms in our society, which include our right to subject ourselves to things that harm our own psyches.
The following is an excerpt from an article titled Gay Men, Straight Women Have Similar Brains that was published in National Geographic on June 16, 2008:
"Gay peoples' brains share similar characteristics to those of the opposite sex, a new study says.
Researchers found resemblances in the brain's physical structure and size as well as the strength of neural connections among gay people and straight people of the opposite sex.
In some ways the brains of straight men and lesbians are on similar wavelengths, the research suggests. Likewise, gay men and straight women appear to have similar brains, in some respects. The findings are new evidence that homosexuals may be born with a predisposition to be gay....
the study found that straight men and gay women are both wired for a greater 'fight or flight' response than gay men or straight women...
Also, homosexual men and straight women showed significantly more neural connections across the two brain hemispheres than heterosexual men did....
The right hemisphere was found to be slightly larger than the left in heterosexual males and lesbians, whereas those of gay men and straight women were symmetrical.
The results compliment previous research that found differing brain reactions in homo- and heterosexuals in response, for instance, to sexual images and certain pheromones, the authors said.
The latest findings imply that 'human sexuality has neurobiological underpinnings,' the mechanisms of which are complex and 'require humbleness and restraint from quick judgments,' study leader Ivanka Savic, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, said.
Sandra Witelson, a neuroscientist at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, wasn't involved in the new study.
'This was a study that was waiting to be done, because it leads so clearly from the current literature,' she said.
Recent work by Witelson and colleagues indicated that the corpus callosum, a long fiber tract that connects the two brain hemispheres, was larger in gay men than in heterosexual men.
Brain features such as the corpus callosum and amygdalae develop very early, suggesting they are primarily genetically determined, she said.
The latest findings 'make it very hard to argue that these differences are a product of learning or environmental influences.'"
It's extremely important to note the following because it explains how gay people are able to engage in sexual relations with members of the opposite sex and how straight people are able to engage in sexual relations with members of the same sex:
"'Sexual orientation has a large genetic component, but that doesn't mean environment is a hundred percent irrelevant,' Witelson said.
'For example, heterosexual men in prison [may] engage in homosexual behavior, but that doesn't mean that they are homosexual because, given a choice, they choose the opposite sex.'"
The environmental component to which Witelson is referring may be our need for acceptance, inability to satisfy our sexual needs over an extended period of time with the gender to which we are innately attracted, as a form of torture, to degrade someone and instill fear, and cultural beliefs that "women are for child rearing and boys are for pleasure", among other reasons.
When "choice" is involved in terms of sexuality, it's the choice to engage in sex with someone of the gender to which you are not instinctively attracted or the decision to force yourself onto someone sexually.
In other words, someone doesn't choose to be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, cisgender, or transgender. Their sexual orientation and gender identity isn't a choice and therefore isn't changeable.
Furthermore, an article titled How Science Is Helping Us Understand Gender published in the January 2017 edition of National Geographic explained the following:
"It turns out transgender people’s brains may more closely resemble brains of their self-identified gender than those of the gender assigned at birth. In one study, for example, Swaab and his colleagues found that in one region of the brain, transgender women, like other women, have fewer cells associated with the regulator hormone somatostatin than men. In another study scientists from Spain conducted brain scans on transgender men and found that their white matter was neither typically male nor typically female, but somewhere in between."
Now, let's discuss neuroscience. I've known about and understood neuroscience to some degree since I started publishing articles in 2008. Until now, I made a conscious decision to convey information in my articles and presentations without referencing the science behind it because such a large percentage of our society either doesn't believe in science or its findings. Either way, I wanted to convey material such that people might be receptive to it, regardless of their beliefs in science or its findings. However, I've reached my tipping point in that regard. I've found that I can't adequately explain information while bypassing so much important information. As such, people reading my material or attending my presentations aren't adequately understanding that material. Therefore, regardless of the impact my discussing the science behind things may have on my readership and people's perceptions of me, I can no longer bypass it.
An article by Therese Huston titled Men Can Be So Hormonal was published by the New York Times on June 24, 2017. The article provides in part as follows:
"Researchers have shown for years that men tend to be more confident about their intelligence and judgments than women, believing that solutions they’ve generated are better than they actually are. This hubris could be tied to testosterone levels, and new research by Gideon Nave, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, along with Amos Nadler at Western University in Ontario, reveals that high testosterone can make it harder to see the flaws in one’s reasoning....
For the men with extra testosterone, their moods hadn’t changed much, but their ability to analyze carefully had.... They were also rushed in their bad judgment and gave incorrect answers faster than the men with normal testosterone levels, while taking longer to generate correct answers....
History has long labeled women as unreliable and hysterical because of their hormones. Maybe now it’s time to start saying, 'He’s just being hormonal.'"
In Why Leaders Eat Last, ethnographer and leadership expert Simon Sinek discusses four different neurochemicals humans produce and how they impact their actions and decision-making. The four neurochemicals he discusses are endorphin (a naturally produced pain killer), dopamine (associated with sexual arousal, romantic love, hightened motivation, feelings of accomplishment, extremely focused attention, goal-directed behaviors, joy, anticipation, enthusiasm, excitement, exuberance, cravings, and addictions), seratonin (associated with reduced sex drive, pride, self-recognition, and a peaceful nature in a person), and oxytocin (associated with attachment and pair-bonding, safety, trust, stress reduction, forgetfulness, and diminishment in the capacity to think and reason).
Sinek discusses the neurochemical cortisol (which "helps restore homeostasis after a state of stress; heightened levels are associated with those newly in loveand with the establishment of new relationships") in Cortisol.
As Noll explained, emotions occur in our brains as a direct result of the neurochemicals we produce in reaction/response to our environment. Their production and the levels we produce impact our emotions. The feelings we experience are physical reactions to our emotions.
We harm ourselves if we deny ourselves the ability to experience our emotions, which must be processed. Among other things, Noll explained that when men don't understand and express their emotions, they tend to lash out. Interestingly enough, an article by Allen Barra titled 'Maximum tension, minimum release': why baseball produces so many brawls was published in The Guardian on June 27, 2017. The following is a quote from that article:
"As former player and manager and current MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre says: 'Baseball creates maximum tension while allowing only minimum opportunities for its release.'”
Emotions motivate behavior. They affect attention, learning, memory, regulatory variables, goal priorities, and social interactions.
Noll explained that anger, fear, happiness, and disgust are our four primary emotions. We learned how and why we experience different emotions.
This type of information is increasingly being discussed and was included in an article by Anna Spain Bradley titled Cognitive Competence in Executive-Branch Decision Making that was published in the February 2017 edition of the Connecticut Law Review. Noll was mentioned in that article, along with a great many others. The following is an excerpt from that article:
"Understanding cognitive competence is essential to understanding general decision-making competence….
Neuroscience helps explain what the behavioral sciences observe: that human decision making is complex and people often make poor choices….
Neuroscientific studies have revealed important knowledge about what can occur in the brain during decision making....
An individual's beliefs and biases can impel and even determine decision outcomes....
Considering how decisions are made at the cognitive level would also give rise to thinking critically about how to present information to decision makers….
Neuroscience is leading the way in evidence-based understandings about our brains and decision making.
The field of neuroscience today is excited by evolving research about how biological data informs knowledge of cognitive functions implicated in decision making. In this context, decision making is understood to be the cognitive mechanisms that work to help a person select good from bad options. Certain topics are considered to be theoretically relevant to decision making and enjoy a significant body of knowledge in neuroscience.' These include trust, cooperation, uncertainty, reward, and loss.' Scientists have found that certain hormones stimulate certain functions. Oxytocin, for example, increases a person's sense of trust due to this neural connection. This can result in a person having a strong affiliation with their group, leading to altruism toward those within it and, notably, an increased harm for out-group members....
‘Empathy is a cognitive skill essential for pro-social behavior.’ However, as a term, empathy describes many responses, not just one. It identifies related but distinct phenomena of cognitive capacities and behavior that occur when a person responds with ‘sensitive care’ to another's suffering.' Varied responses that demonstrate this capacity include coming to know what someone else is feeling internally, feeling what he or she feels, and/or matching another's neural responses.'…
An important recent study has shown that empathy is not an automatic or inherent reaction but a cognitive skill that requires deliberation.' One potential implication of this is that empathy may be something that must be taught because it is skill acquired by learning….
Empathy involves cognitive processes and brain structures that are also invoked during different kinds of decision making. Thus, to believe that empathy is irrelevant to decision making is erroneous and problematic…. Empathy is learned, not innate. As such, decision makers and institutions ought to consider how it can be best developed. We should value the importance of how empathy is developed as a cognitive skill and how its involvement in brain functions is invoked during decision making....
Emotion plays an incredibly important role in decision making. To discount it as either normatively undesirable or descriptively irrelevant is not only erroneous but dangerous….
Decision making, in the cognitive sense, involves a dynamic interplay between intellect and emotion. Studies show how disruption to one capacity negatively affects the other…. People make judgments by evaluating consequences and the probability of them occurring, and sometimes, at a gut or emotional level.' Emotion intersects with memory, judgment, and other cognitive functions in ways that are beneficial and detrimental to decision making….
The oft repeated notion that wise decisions are made with cool (unemotional) heads is inaccurate....
One implication from emotion research that is critical to this Article is that any attempt to influence decision and choice must account for the role that emotion plays in cognition. Assuming emotion away is an error that ignores the evidence. Second, judgments about morality or fairness implicate the role of emotion in ways that other sorts of decisions do not. This suggests that awareness of cognitive functioning in these situations bears great importance….
Decision makers are influenced not only by the task before them but also by a host of internal factors that involve their perceptions and biases….
Law is enamored of rationality. The competent decision maker has long been thought to be a rational one.... One influence of this view was to disdain behavior that was viewed to be emotional because the law is equivocally ‘uncomfortable with feelings.’ Those engaged in its practice, from judges to lawyers, are taught to do so by suppressing intense emotion under the long-standing rationale that it clouds reason and good judgment….
Research from evolutionary biology, behavioral economics, and social psychology demonstrates that people make choices that counter their rational self-interests and problematic behaviors can be predicted. We humans are not the rational actors we were previously thought to be….
Just as individuals make poor choices, so do groups….
There is still a prevailing view that the best decision makers are those with access to special knowledge. We often believe that more information leads to better choices. But this view is overly simplistic. It fails to account for the ways that people discount information due to bias or other decision-making pathologies.... .
Crisis, however, has a long history of prompting changes in decision-making authority…. Yet decision making driven by crisis and necessity is often deeply flawed….
We need to understand empathy if we are going to understand decision making. Most people experience empathy for others at some point in their lives. Where empathy is present, it often rewires the way the brain processes other information. So, crudely put, empathy implicates the way our brains make decisions and, in doing so, influences how we decide....
The point is that your decision, while informed by legal analysis, is not devoid of other factors such as empathy and the emotions it provokes. To pretend otherwise is simply inaccurate.
Humans make choices, and the choices we make are greatly influenced by the ways our brains function…. Emotion affects which parts of our brain fire up, which affects judgment and choice."
Research has established that the levels of neurochemicals produced at any given time vary based upon gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among other things.
In fact, as was explained in a TEDx Talk by James O'Keefe, "scientific studies do indeed show that people in the sexual minority tend to be intelligent, particularly when it comes to emotional intelligence.... Gay males score higher on metrics of compassion and cooperation, and lower in metrics of hostility."
As I've said many times before, people are entitled to their beliefs. Whether or not those beliefs are sincerely-held does not make them fact-based. As such, a line must be drawn when the beliefs of one person or a group of people harm another person or group of people.
I am well-aware that people holding anti-LGBT sentiments feel attacked for their beliefs. They're absolutely right. That being said, when LGBT people are "closeted" or living "in the closet", it's because of their need for belonging. We've already discussed the harm caused to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender individuals, and their straight and cisgender "beards", let alone parental conflict when they procreate with their "beards", as well as the harm caused to their families, friends, colleagues, and society at large. We're comparing the judgment caused by those who want others not to be their authentic selves and to change (or at least pretend to change) who they are in order to "fit in" because otherwise they will judge the hell out of them with judging those doing such harmful judging. Yes, anti-LGBT folks, you are being judged. You are being judged for the immense amount of harm you cause a great many people as a result of your inexperience with, lack of knowledge about, and lack of information about the realities of sexual orientation and gender identity.
As explained through neuroscience, the choices you are making when it comes to issues pertaining to LGBT people and their rights are based in part on your own personal beliefs and biases, whether you realize it or not.
We're not talking about theory and beliefs. We are talking about real people.
Furthermore, no parent is exempt from the possibility of giving birth to a child who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender. No parent, regardless of race, color, national origin, ethicity, ancestry, religion, physical ability, mental ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or amount of wealth is immune from such a possibility. As such, whether we realize it or not, many of us are parents of children who are members of the LGBT community, they are members of our families, our churches, they are our friends, business colleagues, and acquaintances.
It's true that you can find "prominent gay conservatives" holding anti-LGBT sentiments. However, let's discuss two such individuals.
Milo Yiannopoulos was raised in an extremely anti-gay family and has said that he would never have chosen to be gay and that he “would cure his homosexuality if he could." That's the thing, nobody chooses their sexual orientation and gender identity. However, if you would "cure" your sexual orientation and gender identity if you could, then you are self-loathing and not self-loving.
Peter Thiel had an evangelical Christian upbringing. He was "closeted" or living "in the closet" until Gawker revealed his sexual orientation to the world. Nine years later, he paid $10 million in other people's legal expenses to finance their lawsuits against Gawker in an effort to put it out of business. Regardless of your opinion of Gawker, it's not normal to behave in such a manner, regardless of your net worth.
In other words, context is key. It's no coincidence that "prominent gay conservatives" holding anti-LGBT sentiments are self-loathing and not self-loving.
Quoting Mission Impossible, your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to find self-loving LGBT people who hold anti-LGBT sentiments, if you care to use them in support of anti-LGBT positions.
Meanwhile, you may want to ponder how your personal biases and beliefs are impacting your decision-making when it comes to your acceptance or non-acceptance of LGBT people and their civil rights?