dcsimg Bias is Rooted in the Brain Video Transcript The Bias Inside Us
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Bias is Rooted in the Brain Video Transcript

COREY YEAGER: So welcome back. I am Dr. Corey Yeager joining you for webinar number 2 in the series for the Bias Inside Us. This is a series on unconscious and implicit bias. Again, this is the second portion. This is webinar 2. In the first webinar, we really just kind of laid some foundational aspects, somewhat of the framework of what implicit bias really is, talked about a few definitions, words, and phrases that are connected to implicit bias.

So what we're going to do now is dive deeply into the research and better understand implicit bias, and really the impacts that it may be having on us in the educational realm for administrators, for teachers, support staff, really, all of the above. Anyone that's engaging in the school system or in the school process at a district level or a school level, I think this is beneficial for those professional realms. But it also is beneficial for our personal realms.

So all of you, hopefully, have had a chance to watch a couple of videos that accompanied the webinar. If you haven't watched them yet, they're called Cracking the Codes, Unconscious Bias. They're two different videos that I shared with you. One is a bit longer, maybe five minutes. The other one is maybe three minutes. So if you haven't watched those videos yet, now would be a good time to pause this and go watch because we're going to discuss them, and you want to have watched them before this discussion. So if you haven't watched them, pause and go check it out, and then come back to this.

For those of you that have already watched, let's dive into better understanding of what those videos we're talking about, maybe what your sense of those videos were. I'll share with you my thoughts. I've seen those videos thousands of times. And every time I watch them, I take something else from them.

So from that longer video, I think there was five or six different people that talked about unconscious bias. One of them was a teacher. One of them was a professor. I mean, so it's a wide range of folks discussing unconscious bias. So I just want to share with you a few pieces that stood out for me, and maybe you think through some of the pieces that may have stood out for you as you watched that Cracking the Code videos.

The first thing that I think is important for us to discuss and have a handle on is that unconscious bias is built into our brains through messaging. In the previous video, I touched a little bit on the importance of the hippocampus. Again, the hippocampus is the filing system of the brain. So if we continue to get messages through society, it's what we do all the time. The article, "Understanding Implicit Bias," talks about the brain being able to engage and sift through about 11 million pieces and bits of information every second. That's a lot of information.

And if we look at that-- and the article talks a bit about that-- that means there's a number of things that we're consciously engaging and understanding. But the vast majority of the work that our brain is doing is at a level below consciousness. So it's receiving messages all the time. And if we are not engaging in all of those messages, which we can't, it's filtered into our subconscious or our unconscious portions of our being. So that's an important piece.

In that discussion, there was a brief conversation around this concept of being colorblind. So one of the things that we should really struggle and push against is this concept of colorblind. And I think that oftentimes, folks that are using this concept of colorblind-- I don't see color. I just see students-- I think that's a struggle. And the reason that I see it as a struggle is because when you look at me, you see a Black man. There is no denying that fact.

So it's not that we don't see color. The question really is, once we see it or once we see difference-- how about that-- not just color but any difference, if we other people, and we do that. I mean, that's what the brain does.

Once we establish that we see other, the question is what do we do with that information? Not that it's that we don't have it, because, we do. So engaging in a way of understanding ourselves and those around us in a way that can be beneficial, especially in the education realm. We want it to be beneficial to students. So what we do with that information is critical to this unconscious bias.

So one of the reasons that we may not engage and understand this implicit bias, it's similar to-- I'm a metaphorical guy. A fish doesn't know it's in water. It just swims. So it doesn't know it's in water until it's out of water-- very uncomfortable. It can't breathe. Privilege is that for us.

So again, I said that this conversation is not about racism. It's not about homophobia. It's just about how the brain is working and processing these biases continuously. So recognizing when we're in positions of privilege. So for instance, I'm about 6'3", 290 on a good day. If I have a really good meal, it may be closer to 300. That's just how it operates for me.

So what I've come to know and understand with my size is that I'm privileged. So I have size privilege every day. I walk through this world knowing that I have the privilege of being bigger than most. My wife is 4'11". And any time I'm with my wife and kids and I'm walking, I know that they benefit from my size privilege. So I recognize it. I can shirk it and say, well, I don't have it, but I know I do. So privilege works in that way. So what we want to do is recognize when we are moving in those privileged spaces.

The other piece that was discussed in the longer Cracking the Code, where it had multiple people, is this concept of invalidation and, really, aggression. So what we talk about and frame it as microinvalidations and microaggressions. So our students are dealing every day with small, invalidating moments.

Oftentimes, it may be in how discipline is carried out in our school systems. So a kid-- a young kid of color, for instance, could see another kid who have the exact same behavior, but that kid gets in trouble, and gets written up, and sent to the principal for the behavior that a kid that doesn't look like them doesn't get in trouble for.

So what that is is an internalized process of bias occurring is that I see Johnny, who may look like me. And in Johnny, I can see my son. I can see my nephew. I can see my cousins in Johnny. But in Tyrone I can't. So I have to be more cautious and on guard with Tyrone as opposed to Johnny, even though their behaviors may be similar.

So this is implicit bias working at full strength. So what we want to do is start to understand how we are engaging differently with similar behaviors. That's one of the things that the "Understanding Implicit Bias" article talks about in terms of the educational realm. I think that's an important takeaway. It was for me.

So the last portion that I'll talk about is the one with the single woman that was talking, the one woman that was talking. And her name was Dr. Joy Degruy. And Dr. Degruy is one of the preeminent scholars, African-American scholars in the country. She's written a number of books, and she captures implicit and unconscious bias in her description of the grocery store. So I've seen that video, literally, probably thousands of times. I use it a lot in my conversations. I use it therapeutically as well.

And what Dr. DeGruy does is really captures a moment that, as she's describing herself in the line at that grocery store, every single time she describes it, I see myself standing in the line watching this interaction. And what Dr. DeGruy said that I thought-- the takeaway that I took from that little piece is that she said her sister-in-law, who doesn't look like her, knew that there was a difference in how she walked through the world and how our sister-in-law walked through the world. And she leveraged her privilege on behalf of Dr. DeGruy.

So what we must understand is if we can frame and hold on to the fact that there may be privileges that we all have, can we utilize those privileges on behalf of our students? Because we can and, hopefully, we will. And I think that sometimes we do it unconsciously. We leverage our privilege. But we want to be aware and to be able to leverage our privilege intentionally on behalf of our students. As we signed up to be in the educational realm, we didn't do it because we'd become multimillionaires. We did it because we want to make a difference.

And one of the things that we should be discussing more is what was the covenant that brought us to this work, revisiting that covenant that we want to make a difference, that we want the next generation to have the opportunities that we may not have had. Dr. DeGruy captures that in a really profound way in that two or three minutes.

So hopefully, you've utilized those videos. Maybe-- I think it's important to watch them multiple times. Again, I have, because I take something different away every single time I watch it. I hear something that I didn't hear the time before every single time I watch it. So utilizing that as a springboard into better understanding unconscious bias and how it's finding a space in our home, in our personal and professional lives.

So I just want to hit a few things that I think are really important in this segment. Talking about the roots of human existence and human thought over hundreds of thousands of years, the brain has developed the ability to deeply ingrained intuitions, thought patterns, cognitive tactics. And all of these pieces of the brain were designed to maximize passing on our genes. Prehistoric environmental genes and development have been passed on. And through the brain passing those on generation after generation, it's really for survival. So we see that this concept of bias is not just something that's happened, but it has happened to keep us alive and to survive.

We talk about prejudging. That's part of the brain doing its work to keep us out of trouble. Sometimes that information is flawed. So that's where bias starts to struggle if you have flawed information, but we use that information unconsciously as really the truth. So talking about that and looking at that, critical. So my realm, the word realm that I work in, is the realm of social science. And social science and neuroscience have, once again, begun to converge in a very meaningful and profound way.

And some of the takeaways that social science is having in terms of implicit bias that we innately know, but the research is telling us that children begin to acquire prejudices and stereotypes even as toddlers. They're tuning in. They're watching. They're sponges watching the environment, developing the hippocampus. And those pieces connect to formulate our bias systems. And it starts as toddlers. A study shows as early as three, children pickup terms and racial prejudice, sexual preference prejudice, class prejudice, gender prejudice, very early as toddlers. And they don't really understand. As children, you don't understand the significance because you're just a sponge taking them in.

But once those prejudices and biases are learned and embraced, bias, it resists change. So it doesn't want to change because it's saying, hey, it's in here. We've got it in here for a reason. We're going to pull this information up when we need it. And we're going to move in almost a default way based on these prejudicial and biased sets of information.

And when we receive information to the contrary of those biases, and it fails to support those biases, we don't necessarily engage to change them because it has become our default. So making sure that we understand that is something that we really want to want to move on.

So if we look at bias, bias is deeply ingrained. Again, it's a brain function. It's not a social construct. We'll talk a little bit about that as we go. But it's not a socially constructed process. This is the science of the brain working.

Bias is adjustable, but all too often unconscious. So you could adjust it, but it's hard to adjust something that's unconscious. That's why we're hoping to bubble this bias conversation into the conscious realm. And it's activated most often by stress, time pressure, multitasking, lack of knowledge and information. Well, teachers are never stressed. They're never multitasking, and they never have time pressure.

Hopefully, you tune into my jest that teachers are always having high levels of stress. But the nature of the business, the nature of the career is high stress, and multitasking, and time pressure for testing, all of these things. And what we've learned, what the research is telling us, that is the home for bias. When all of these recipes are coming together, they really, really engage bias.

So I want to read something, and you can follow along, if you look at that "Understanding Implicit Bias" article. If you go to page 30 under "Implicit Bias in Education," I'll give you a second to pull it up if you don't have it. I think it's a really important concept that tunes in to why teachers are maybe more susceptible to implicit and unconscious bias. So I'm just going to read a piece of this "Implicit Bias in Education." I think it's important to understand as a recipe for bias."

It says, "Research on implicit bias has identified several conditions in which individuals are most likely to rely on their unconscious System One association." So System One is the unconscious portion of the brain. "These include situations that involve ambiguous or incomplete information, the presence of time constraints, and circumstances in which our cognitive control may be compromised such as through fatigue or having a lot on our minds."

This is the recipe of teachers. This is what teachers are dealing with every single day. The pressures of making sure that your students do well, the time restriction that you have to get from one portion of the curriculum to another by this day, the tests that are always looming, all of those pieces go into a recipe to say that unconscious bias will find a home. That default system will kick in because I'm busy, and I can't manage all that. So I just have to go with whatever unconsciously works in that moment.

So understanding that is a critical piece. I mentioned before-- in paragraph two on that same page on the opposite side, It talks about "millions of possible pieces of information we can process each second. Most neuroscientists agree that the vast majority of our cognitive processing occurs outside of our conscious awareness." So all of this information that we're, on a daily basis, receiving is outside of our conscious realm. So understanding that is critical.

And if you drop down on that same page, page 30, in paragraph three, it talks about "implicit biases do not necessarily align with our explicit beliefs and stated intentions. This means that even individuals who profess egalitarian intentions and try to treat all individuals fairly can still unknowingly act in ways that reflect their implicit rather than their explicit biases. Thus, even well-intentioned individuals can act in ways that produce inequitable outcomes for different groups."

This is the issue that we really are addressing. This is the cornerstone. So we can explicitly be stating, this is our stance, here's how we see the world, all of those pieces-- and those are critically important. Don't get me wrong. But just as important as understanding that it may not be congruent, that explicit verbalization of where we stand and how we see the world may not be congruent. When we enter our classroom and multitasking, and the chaos ensues, we may go to some default systems that may not be in line with our explicit beliefs. That is a critical juxtaposition that we want to frame as we go.

So bias is most often engaged or applied to race, gender, and age-- those are the ones-- as well as sexual orientation. Those pieces are most often the space that bias is applied into. So recognizing all of those pieces is important.

Now, this next piece is something that I have come up and started to play with more as mentioned in webinar 1, but it's critical now, is this concept of cognitive dissonance. So cognitive dissonance, in my work, I'll describe it as the cousin to implicit bias. And what is cognitive dissonance? We've all heard it, but what is it? So it's the mental stress or discomfort experienced when holding two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. So those two beliefs are coming together at the same time.

So if we hold a biased belief about a group, but then we begin to know people from that group, and those worlds don't coincide, they're in-congruent. What happens is when we have two conflicting beliefs, which is what cognitive dissonance is. Only one of those, the research tells, only one of those beliefs will win out in each moment.

So recognizing that this battle that may ensue in our heads is not a bad battle because if we have cognitive dissonance, it means that we're at least cognitive. We're understanding that something is occurring. When it's implicit, when it's unconscious, we don't really even have a frame on it because the frame is unconscious. So moving into a more-- engaging cognitive dissonance space is a critical move. We want to have that battle. So at least if we have that battle, it's something that we can fight with and begin to tassel and tussle with.

So we talked about cognitions. Cognitions, there's a really interesting frame, and I'll just read it to you. It says that "what we're taught creates beliefs." We know that. Beliefs create attitudes, attitudes create feelings, and feelings determine actions.

So you can see the connection between beliefs implicitly and actions, right? They're all cognitions. They're all connected together. So understanding that flow and frame of how these cognitions may impact us is an important space.

So let's get into the research. We have about 10 more minutes left in this. I want to begin to frame some of the research that I see and that the research world sees as critical. So we'll start with a study that happened in 2004 by Ohio State's psychologist Will Cunningham. And Dr. Cunningham, what he did is he engaged 30 research participants, and they were students. And he researched them, brought them in. And two of the qualifiers for the being a participant is that you had to be liberal and antiracist. So those were two qualifiers. Filled out the information. If you said you were liberal and antiracist, you got in.

So what he did is he connected them to an fMRI. So now, we see neuroscience and social science coming together. fMRI just measures brain activity. So he connected them to this fMRI imaging. And he did it and let them view these images of people, of individuals, Black and white.

And they flashed these faces-- as they're connected to this fMRI, he flashed faces in front of them for 30 milliseconds. 30 milliseconds is very quick. You can barely register how quickly these faces flashed. And as he flashed these faces in front of them and measured the brain activity, what he saw was when a white person saw a white face, the brain had really no activity at all. But when a white person saw a brown or Black face flashed on the screen the amygdala would fire.

So what is the amygdala? The amygdala is the fear center, the emotion center of the brain. The amygdala is fully developed at about eight months of gestation, meaning that if a woman is pregnant, and if you were to walk up there and clap your hands loudly in front of her stomach, the baby would be startled. Well, that's the fear component. The amygdala of the brain, fully developed before the child even enters the world. So this amygdala would flash when they saw brown faces.

I think that's a really important piece because what does it show? It shows that even if I consider myself liberal and antiracist, when I see others, my brain tells me, uh-oh, there's something going on. Fear should engage.

So I think the most ingenious portion of what Dr. Cunningham did was, after these findings, he brought those same participants back in, did the exact same thing. But what he would do, instead of 30 millisecond flashes of the picture, he slowed it down. He slowed the pictures down to half a second, not long, but half a second. The brain processes, again, we said 11 million bits of information in one second.

So in half a second, what he found was as soon as they saw the picture of a white face, nothing happened once again. But when they saw a brown face the amygdala would immediately fire, fear center. It would immediately fire. But since it was there for half a second, the brain processed quickly, oh, I'm not supposed to be fearful. I said that I was antiracist. I'm not supposed to be scared of these faces. And then what would happen is the prefrontal cortex of the brain would engage, and the amygdala would disengage.

Well, what is the prefrontal cortex? Well, it is the mediating center of the brain. For instance, if I'm deathly afraid of snakes, if a snake was to crawl into my office right now, the amygdala would fire. I would be fearful, but then the prefrontal cortex would say, hey, you can jump up on the desk. You can move away from it. You don't have to be fearful. So it would mediate that work.

So this is the housing, what we're determining, political correctness. So the prefrontal cortex kicked in and said, hey, you're not supposed to do that. It would settle things down. This is political correctness.

So now neuroscience has begun to give us an understanding of how the brain is moving through this fear piece as well as political correctness, very, very critical concepts. So I think that is one piece of information that I think we should really engage in.

And we'll close with one other research study that I thought is pretty connected to what we're discussing in this concept of social perception. So there is now what we are calling or framing as social neuroscientist. And Joshua Correll is one of those.

And what Dr. Correll did was recruit students to participate in a computer game. And he brought the students in. And in a simulated situation, they would push a button to shoot or not shoot on the computer screen. And what would happen is people would flash. White or Black folks would flash on the film, on the screen, and they would be holding a non-threatening object like a wallet, or a cell phone, or they would be holding a gun. And you had to make a quick decision, shoot or not shoot.

So what do you think the research came up with? Is that participants were more likely to shoot unarmed Blacks compared to whites. So if they're unarmed, how often was it that you hit the wrong button and chose to shoot, when they were Black was much higher than if they were unarmed and white.

Also, on top of that, what they found was that even if both folks were armed, a white person flashes on the screen with a gun, a Black person flashes on the screen with a gun, participants were more quickly viewing the threat of a Black person with a gun and hitting that button much quicker when it's a person of color.

So these pieces of research are beginning to show us how the brain is going through trying to sift through who the threats are or are not. So we can see that the unconscious is so strong that it begins to formulate how we see the world and how we engage in the world. So this research is critical, a critical cornerstone to what we want to do as we move forward in understanding. There's some new research that's coming out that we'll talk a bit about more in the next seminar, in the next webinar.

But I think that this research begins to lay the foundation for that work. So as we close, I know that there was-- hopefully, if you will get a chance if you haven't to go back through and capture some of those videos, relook at some of those videos, and see what stands out for you. I'm sure there will be things that stand out for you that didn't stand out for me and vice versa. But I think this research and the Cracking the Codes really lays a good cornerstone to us better understanding how this is working in the brain.

And next we'll dive into-- all right, so we've got some information, we've defined what it is, we understand better how the brain is sifting through this work. So now, what can we do as teachers and administrators in the educational realm charged with providing the best educational opportunity for all students? So we'll talk about that in the final webinar.

Appreciate the opportunity to be in front of you once again. I look forward to finishing this three-part webinar series for The Bias Inside Us next. Thank you. Have a great day.