Welcome to my series about Blind Spots – based on the book by Dr. Banaji and Dr. Greenwald.
This week, I’d like to introduce you to one of their concepts: Mindbugs.
Mindbugs are defined as follows:
“Ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason and make decisions.”
There are several types of mindbugs that are explored in this book, but the one that is of particular importance to work in Diversity & Inclusion are social mindbugs.
Social mindbugs are about how we make decisions about people. They “can give us both false feelings of faith in people we perhaps shouldn’t trust and the opposite – feelings of distrust towards those whom we perhaps should trust” – all because of the social group to which they belong (or to which we think they belong!).
What do the authors mean by social groups? They refer to psychologically and socially meaningful groups of all sorts including age, gender, religion, class, sexual orientation, ability, profession, physical attractiveness, personality (as a few examples). “The groups to which people belong seem to be compelling explanations for who they are and what they do and even what they may potentially do, and thereby serve as justification for our behaviour toward them.”
Take a moment to read that last quote again and really take it in.
And, interestingly, we have social mindbugs about ourselves as well – thanks to the messages we receive in the media, through what is taught and not taught in school, and what we hear/learn from family and friends (among other things).
If our brain is an efficiency machine, and seeks to use information it already has over new information – even without our awareness – then the implications of social mindbugs are enormous and troubling. Social mindbugs can help to explain much about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination, and they provide insight into what creates and maintains systemic discrimination.
Consider tragic events (like the recent shooting of a black youth by police in Missouri, or the shooting of a mentally ill man by police on a streetcar in Toronto a few years ago) in this light and we can see the physical dangers of social mindbugs. They can provide insight into the lack of human rights afforded to some people (yes, even in Canada!). And social mindbugs can also give us insight around choices in recruitment, hiring, promotion, who is given responsibilities, and who is chosen to work on a project or with a specific client. These choices aren’t physically dangerous, but they still have long lasting and far reaching impacts.
Insight doesn’t mean social mindbugs offer a way to condone these behaviours – but they can help us to understand how they could occur and how systems that support them are maintained, and offer us the possibility of change, through awareness and consciousness.
That should be enough food for thought for this week.