Welcome to the Youthlinc Impact Modules. All participants will complete monthly impact modules that will address issues of bias, white saviorism, and mental health. These modules will help participants to understand themselves and others before traveling internationally. These modules help us become better humanitarians and set us up for sustainable best practices while we are serving abroad.
JANUARY MODULE: IMPLICIT BIAS
SECTION 1: What is Bias?
At any given moment, we receive over 11 million bits of information from the world around us, but we can only consciously process 40 bits of information at a time. Our unconscious mind, however, can process much more information, and it does so by using a series of mental shortcuts and filters, based on past experiences, cultural and societal norms, and personal beliefs—also known as implicit bias.
Simply put, a bias is a preconceived opinion in favor or against one thing, person, or group compared with another. This extends to the people, locations, objects, and concepts in our lives. You may be biased towards the color blue or music that features acoustic guitars, or biased against garlicky foods or impressionistic art. Though we often use the term bias negatively, it isn’t inherently bad.
Implicit bias affects our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner through our pre-existing attitudes and stereotypes. These biases can be neutral, positive, or negative. Additionally, your implicit biases may directly contradict your explicit beliefs or intentions. For example, you may strongly believe that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be able to love whoever they choose. If you grew up in a more socially conservative environment, however, you may still hold implicit biases against LGBTQ+ relationships, even if you’re not consciously perceiving your biases.
Our brains are hardwired to fill in the missing pieces or gaps in a story or situation based on our personal experiences, beliefs, or cultural/societal norms. This can lead to oversimplifying situations or people, evaluating a person or situation based on a previously positive or negative experience with similar attributes. We place more importance on our own experiences, or current and past situations. This can cause us to put those who have similar perspectives or experiences into a favorable “in group” and everyone else in a less or not-favorable “out group” and overestimating the importance of our own experiences and choices.
What Does Bias Look Like?
When referring to people, we typically think of bias in terms of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, but bias can be anything! You can be biased for or against:
- People who grew up in your area
- Graduated from your alma mater
- Have a similar taste in music
- Are generally personable
- Have a similar way of speaking as you
- Or any other trait you can think of
This can translate into being more favorable towards a fellow student or colleague based on a shared love of a specific author. Conversely, you may have a generally negative perception of someone whose taste in music is the polar opposite of yours.
SECTION 2: Where Do we See Bias In Action?
Now that we’ve talked about what implicit bias is, let’s discuss why it’s important. Bias seeps into every aspect of our lives. It’s natural for you to draw associations towards people, places, and things based on your own experiences. While it can be relatively harmless, like in the case of getting along particularly well with a colleague who speaks similarly to you, it can be highly problematic and dangerous when we begin to draw these conclusions towards classes of people. Our brains create perceived patterns according to race, religion, gender, or other aspects of identity, which can have far reaching effects when it comes to academic and workplace opportunities, who we associate with, and even the safety of individuals in our society.
What we see portrayed in the news and media, as well as the conversations we have with those around us, can influence our thinking more than we know. For instance, portrayals of women as homemakers and housewives in popular media can carve associations in our thinking. You may consciously believe women are just as adept at men in the workplace, but if you implicitly associate women with housework, you may unconsciously judge them more harshly for shortcomings on the job.
Let's start with some types of bias:
Now that we know some common types of bias, what do these look like in our daily lives?
SECTION 3: How Can We Interrupt Bias?
While we like to think of ourselves as rational and logical people, the reality is a lot of our thought processes are occurring unconsciously without our intention and control. Those implicit processes, when activated, can derail even the most sincere explicit intentions. You may ask yourself, how do we combat the presence of implicit bias in our lives?
Well, you’ve already taken the first step! Being aware of the fact that implicit bias exists and influences your thinking is essential in interrupting your biases. By simply reading through this module and critically analyzing your own experiences, you’ve started your journey to thinking about the world with less influence from unconscious bias. You can continue this journey by examining your initial reactions to people, places, and things and challenging your gut-instinct perceptions.