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Mollie Teitelbaun, a senior majoring in philosophy and comparative literature, delivers her TEDxBinghamtonUniversity to the audience at the Osterhout Concert Theater.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
TEDx 2017: Student speaker takes on implicit biases
March 27, 2017Tweet
According to Mollie Teitelbaum, the little things that annoy us about others can be more detrimental than we think.
“Learning we have unjust subconscious beliefs that don’t line up with our conscious ones is a little disturbing,” she said. “We’ve been socially conditioned to have all sorts of implicit biases. When they apply to social groups, like race and gender, we know they’re bad. But sometimes, we endorse our biases.”
Teitelbaum is a senior majoring in philosophy and comparative literature. She spoke about implicit biases in a talk called “So that’s why you annoy me! Combating peccadillic implicit bias” March 26, at TEDxBinghamtonUniversity at the Osterhout Concert Theater. The idea discussed in the talk was developed as part of Teitelbaum’s honors thesis in philosophy.
These subtle biases come into play when we are faced with “peccadillos,” Teitelbaum said. Peccadillos are harmless behaviors that could be considered offensive to others, such as having a big ego or chewing loudly.
“To describe biases like these that target peccadillos, I coined the term ‘peccadillic implicit bias,’” she said. “We tend to react to things that disgust us like they’re immoral, but really they just break social norms.”
Teitelbaum said these biases are broken up into three categories: personality-based biases toward traits we dislike; value-based biases toward values we disapprove of; and disgust-based biases toward habits that repulse us. Explicit biases are ones we are aware of, while implicit ones can be more dangerous.
“The traits and habits that bother us out of proportion don’t merit the treatment that inevitably follows,” she said. “Subconsciously, they ‘other’ you, treating you less kindly all of the time and withholding opportunities from you.”
As an example, Teitelbaum cited the implicit weight bias. Implicit biases link being overweight with incompetence and laziness. She also said doctors with this bias have been shown to demonstrate lower levels of care to overweight patients.
These biases can present in small ways, too: using an agitated tone with someone or avoiding eye contact can be a side affect of implicit biases.
“Micro-inequities are small acts that communicate disapproval, and often go unnoticed by the person who’s doing them,” Teitelbaum said.
According to Teitelbaum, we are more tolerant of our own peccadillos than of those we see in others.
“This inconsistency with how we perceive peccadillos in ourselves versus in others can be explained by a funny psychological phenomenon,” she said. “Actor-observer bias makes us forgiving of our own faults, and harsh on everyone else’s.”
But there’s good news: We don’t have to fall prey to our biases.
“We can overcome this intense double standard by applying the same compassionate rationale we afford ourselves to others,” Teitelbaum said. “That’s the first step in de-biasing: critical analysis of our peccadillic biases.”
Taking a look at the things that annoy you about other people is crucial to avoiding bias. Teitelbaum said once you notice this, thinking about why a person might be doing the behavior can help. She calls these “implementation interventions.”
“I’m sitting in class taking notes. Someone participates, and he speaks for five minutes,” she said. “This triggers my implementation intervention about ego, but I have to remember that confidence is good and it could be his defense mechanism.”
Teitelbaum said these biases that affect us on a day-to-day basis can have larger social implications as well.
“There’s a risk of large-scale social injustice when peccadillos are associated with social groups,” she said. “Prejudiced action rooted in social group membership is a particularly dangerous breed of injustice. This only raises the stakes for combating peccadillic implicit biases.”
Teitelbaum ended her talk with one last piece of advice to be mindful of implicit biases.
“It won’t just make you kinder,” she said. “You’ll actually be less annoyed all of the time.”