“I don’t believe it’s humanly possible to be free of bias,” says Robin Di’Angelo, author, educator and researcher on issues of racial and social injustice.
Dr. Sharonne Herbert, belonging, diversity, equity and inclusion (BDEI) officer at CHOC, shares Di’Angelo’s quote at the beginning of her lecture, “Mindbugs: The fallible nature of the human machine,” to set the stage.
Dr. Herbert explains that if you are alive and human, you will naturally have “mindbugs.”
Mindbugs are hidden biases that impact every human’s daily life, work and relationships. For providers, mindbugs can impact the way they care for patients and families.
Dr. Herbert outlines the goals of her lecture, including:
- Introducing the concern of mindbugs.
- Creating awareness of mind bugs that impact everyday lives.
- Giving listeners the desire to learn more.
Why are mind bugs concerning?
The term, mindbug, actually comes from the computer science world, says Dr. Herbert. Kurt Vanlehn, author and professor of computer science, describes mindbug as mental arithmetic habits that malfunction when they are applied to solutions that they aren’t intended to be.
Psychology professors and researchers Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji then expanded this idea to include that mind bugs are ingrained habits of thought that lead to specific errors in how humans perceive, remember, reason and make decisions.
The human brain processes 11 million bits of information per second. However, only 14 to 60 of those bits are processed consciously; the rest are processed unconsciously. Because so much information is being processed in the unconscious, the mind acts like a machine to efficiently make decisions.
Mindbugs create mental shortcuts based on patterns and categories, which in turn creates biases. These patterns and categories are developed through social conditioning, which are values, norms and customs in specific in communities and cultures, being conditioned by friends, family, leaders, media, social media and more.
The problem is that mindbugs are error-prone, often causing the mind to make decisions based on limited information.
How mind bugs can impact your everyday life
Because your mind is just trying to keep up with all the information getting thrown at it, it’s human to have biases, says Dr. Herbert. And unfortunately, there is no cure for it.
However, self-awareness can help combat biases.
To be self-aware, it’s important to know several types of bias, such as:
- Confirmation bias – seeking out information to confirm your own beliefs.
- Conformity bias – making decisions based on popular opinion. 75% of the time, humans will change their opinion to align with the greater group.
- Beauty bias – making decisions based on how attractive other people look.
- Affinity/similarity bias – gravitating to others who appear to be similar to you.
- Halo effect/horns effect – if something (product or person) is great or has done something great, then the person or product is great. Or the opposite, if they have done something bad, then the person or product is bad.
- Contrast effect – when two things are judged in comparison to one another, instead of being assessed individually.
If you find yourself having one of these biases, call out your humanity and correct it, says Dr. Herbert. Allow this conversation to happen in yourself or with others so you can catch and correct your bias next time.
How to combat your personal mind bugs or biases
In addition to self-awareness, there are some ways to combat your personal mind bugs — allowing you to enjoy and experience new people, ideas and products, while also ensuring you are providing the best possible care or relationships to others.
Ways to combat bias:
- Connect with and get to know other people so that you understand their individual qualities.
- Increasing exposure to counter-stereotypic members of different groups or traits of people for perspective-taking and empathy.
- Strive for more harmonious intergroup relations by learning about and connecting with people that belong to different groups.
- Detect your unconscious bias and correct it.
- Create a common group identity as you get to know others, so you build an “us” rather than a “them”.
- Have intergroup contact between members of different groups, reducing mutual prejudice and increasing trust and forgiveness.
View Dr. Sharonne Herbert’s full lecture, “Mindbugs: The fallible nature of the human machine” on CHOC’s Grand Rounds Archive. And, make sure to visit CHOC’s Continuing Medical Education (CME) page to view upcoming events.
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