Keeping Biases in Check
Understanding our propensity for mental shortcuts
BY: Troy Murphy | June 2018
We masterfully conserve our mental energy. Not from professionally designed organizational habits; but naturally. Our minds aren’t lazy; they’re efficient. We experience, we think, we respond (sometimes thinking never participates at all). Over time connections form and the responses become habitual, bypassing the controlling arm of a thinking cortex. No need to waste energy, losing precious fractions of seconds, on thought. Our brains store information from experience, projecting memories onto the present and we respond, without pulling utilizing consciousness for a skeptical examination. This usually serves us well.
We record dangerous situations, painful encounters, failures, and joys (the more significant the experience the more salient the memory). New encounters make sense through comparisons to the past. The memory amplifies or diminishes the emotional reaction. When something in the present connects to a traumatic event of the past, we strongly react. This process provided an evolutionary advantage. New stimuli provoke responses because we have gained wisdom from the past, we react with an educated response, from beneficial predictions. We couldn’t quickly respond if every situation was examined as novel, demanding a complete analysis of all the data.
This automatic reactionary feature occasionally goes astray, leading to troublesome action. We must periodically scrutinize responses for appropriateness; the system is efficient but fallible. Emotional experience gathers input from a wide net, including many irrelevant facts—past associations include misleading data. Biases creep in and smoothly mislead interpretations. We have biases built into the thinking system. Ignorance to a personal bias isn’t the mark of a highly evolved mind but testifies of the shadowy operation of infiltrating biases. We don’t see them. Unseen biases destructively invade thought without correction. The blindness of their presence narrows views and obstructs wisdom. We should constantly be on guard, periodically examining our automatic conclusions. If we don’t intentionally seek to uncover biases, they will grossly misdirect responses.
Our ego quietly creates justifications, supporting the biased based conclusions. We think our response is intelligent but often isn’t. Once free of the delusion, we recognize how foolish our judgments were.
"We must periodically scrutinize responses for appropriateness; the system is efficient but fallible."
Grouping categories eases cognitive demand, we cast a wide net, avoiding the particulars. We don’t have the cognitive resources to evaluate every small chunk of information; grouping is an effective short-cut; but when groupings use race, gender, age, religious and political beliefs or even professions, we must combat these biased interpretations, gather more facts, and identify the real cause behind the happening. Check, recheck and then check again to combat these nasty biased responses.
Our minds efficiently navigate complexity with wisdom learned from the past, assembling relevant associations to better direct our choices. Modern society continually morphs, booming with constant change; our evolutionary (reactionary) brains can’t keep up with the ever-growing web of connections. The progression of our environment must be matched with mindful attention, identifying errant impulses and justifying thoughts that no longer serve our purposes; slow down and skeptically reject shortcuts that devalue groups of people, expend some energy of mind to explore the real cause, and then act with constructive intention instead of mindless habit.
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