Outlawing Bias is Doomed to Fail

Bias is Hard-Wired into Our Brains

Posted Feb 07, 2018

By Lizbeth Jacobs & GoAnimate, Inc.
Source: By Lizbeth Jacobs & GoAnimate, Inc.

My Radio interview  with  KGO's Ethan Bearman on why outlawing bias is doomed  to fail.

Ethan Bearman: You know diversity, this is... I've been tweeting about it, I've been talking about it for a very long time. One of my favorite quotes of all time; I have the book, on my bookshelf is from Mark Twain, from the Innocents Abroad written in 1869. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness. And many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. And then, it but it's no different today! 1869 it was written. It's 2017 and seems like Mark Twain could have written that I don't, know yesterday.  

Well speaking of diversity, how we teach and we write about it from a psychology perspective, joining me on the phone right now is Dr. Mona Weissmark. She's a psychology professor, author of the forthcoming book The Science of Diversity, founder of the program initiative for global mental health studies at Northwestern University.  Dr. Weissmark, thank you for coming on the show today.

Dr. Weissmark: Thank you very much for inviting me and that's a great quote

Ethan Bearman: Honest to goodness that is like one of my all-time favorite quotes
because what in my experience is just like Mark Twain's. I've known people who have like never left the county they grew up in. And I know people who are well-traveled and the most important thing is meeting and getting to know people from different cultures and all of the sudden your prejudices start melting away because you realize people are people and we all have different things about it. I mean isn't that kind of part of the core of teaching diversity? Is experiencing other people?

Dr. Weissmark: Well, Ethan I actually think it points to something that cannot so easily be outlawed so to speak. Which is our affinity for people who are like
ourselves, so even though we might travel or meet other people, or try what I
call through the command and control approach of outlawing  biases. The research shows 30 years of it  that's not going to work. And the reason it's not going to work I
think, you really hit on it with a Mark Twain quote because it's part of our
biology, is science. Just like we need oxygen or just that we like we can only bend our arms in one direction we have very strong emotional ties partly because of our histories our memories our affinities.  And therefore when you have training programs that are trying to outlaw biases that's not going to work

Ethan Bearman: Oh interesting! So this is what the 30 years of research shows. So you know we have that ancient part of the brain, the old tribalistic nature which was to protect us right? People who are different we're suspicious because we had to protect our little tribe and they may have been up to no good. And that's part of all of that as well. So when you talk about this Dr. Wiessmark what does the research show that actually does work? Or is there training, or anything that works besides just traveling broad like Mark Twain said?

Dr. Weissmark: I think that's a great question and not trying to boast. So I don't
want anyone to take my word for it. But, actually my teaching fellow, Lizbeth Jacobs, a very gifted Harvard Teaching Fellow put together a video of students
who have taken our course The Psychology of Diversity. So it's looking at people around the world who have taken the course and how have they changed when taking the course. Have they in fact changed? And you can look at that if you just go to Psychology Today it's right up there. It's a video presentation of people in Hong Kong, Mexico, the United States, and so forth. But to answer your question, what doesn't work....

[Sound of scissors and music...]

Copyright © Mona Sue Weissmark All Rights Reserved

Watch: The Science of Diversity, Dr. Mona Weissmark's Interview w/ KGO's Ethan Bearman (Pt. 1 ) here:  https://youtu.be/VpDCllHq1_o

By Lizbeth Jacobs & GoAnimate
Source: By Lizbeth Jacobs & GoAnimate

References

Weissmark,M. (forthcoming). The Science of Diversity. Oxford University Press, USA.

Weissmark, M. (2004). Justice Matters: Legacies of the Holocaust and World War II. Oxford University Press, USA.

Weissmark, M. & Giacomo, D. (1998). Doing Psychotherapy Effectively. University of Chicago Press, USA.