Humanization, Dehumanization and Other Things Psychologists Do
How can we overcome our own biases and stop seeing the worst in others? Psychologists and bestselling authors Jennifer Eberhardt and Adam Grant, along with CBS News’ John Dickerson, use cutting-edge research and examples from their own lives to discuss whether there’s hope for our schools and workplaces to bring out the better angels of our nature.
As a species, we are categorizers, and categories help us bring coherence to the world, explains Stanford psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt. But as we’ve formed categories for humans and put different social groups into those categories, it opens the way for bias. Implicit biases are the beliefs and feelings we have about social groups that can influence our decision making and our actions, says Eberhardt, even when we’re not aware of it.
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A consequence of bias is that it makes it easier to dehumanize others and strip them of their individuality. Though the groups that are dehumanized and the ways in which they are dehumanized differ across time and location, the fact of dehumanization is universal, says Eberhardt.
The major issue with online bias trainings is that they haven’t been systematically evaluated, and there aren’t agreed-upon metrics for evaluation, says Jennifer Eberhardt. Complicating things further, organizations have a range of motives and incentives for having trainings, and often these trainings don’t reach the people who need them the most. Watch Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, explain a study he helped conduct to test the efficacy of different types of bias training in a large multinational company:
How can bias trainings be more helpful? We need more research on the conditions under which we act on our biases, says Eberhardt.
Research shows that by the age of 10 years old, children have already received the message that you’re not supposed to ever mention someone’s race. It’s the colorblind message, says Jennifer Eberhardt, and it often serves to undermine and further marginalize the experiences of people of color.
Colorblindness simply doesn’t allow for accountability over our biases. And this is key, because “if we’re aware of the situations in which our biases are activated,” Eberhardt says, “we can shut it down.”
If you met someone from your hometown while you were in your hometown, you wouldn’t necessarily care or feel any affinity towards them. But if you met that same person while you were traveling in a foreign country, you would be instant best friends. This is the example Adam Grant uses when describing rare similarities, where you go beyond superficial similarities to find more meaningful connections with others. Rare similarities tend to overcome bias, says Grant.
Big IdeaI don’t think you have to feel other people’s feelings to care about their feelings.Adam Grant
There’s a sense that bias is individual, but bias really comes from our social environment, says Jennifer Eberhardt, and our institutions play a huge role in determining what those environments are. It’s not enough for organizations to just describe the problem, like having very few women and people of color in leadership roles, for example. “You need to reject the problem,” Adam Grant urges. “And say this is not okay. This is not acceptable.”