Managing Hidden Biases
Katie Moriarty discusses implicit stereotypes and how we can learn to recognize and control them.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.
Spoiler Alert: This post discusses events in Call the Midwife Season 5 Episode 7
“For the women of Nonnatus House life was composed of countless tender disciplines. For every word not spoken in the precious nightly silence, prayers had to be offered and rituals performed. For every sweet hour stolen there was penance paid, and even fleeting golden moments called for sacrifice and courage. Nothing came entirely easily and yet all hardship was embraced because that was the way the wind blew. That was the way that things were done.”
In this episode we meet Daisy and her family (water gypsies) as they challenge us to think of our biases about "fitting in" with society. It made me think of our lack of awareness and our hidden biases.
When Daisy went into the hospital and her children were invited to join the local school, Patsy and the nuns wanted to help protect them from being ridiculed. They did not want them to be "different."
As a modern day midwife we are often faced with a wide range of families in varied life situations. Today there is more awareness of diversity and inclusion; however, we must all really be cognizant or challenge our own upbringing and exposures, and check our mindsets as we deal with our hidden biases.
There is a fabulous book titled "Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People." The book explores the hidden biases we all carry from our lives and our exposures and the impact on our cultural attitudes about age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, sexuality, disability status and nationality (see the resource below for the details of the book).
The book begins by defining what our blind spot is: Literally our blind spot refers to an area in our retina where there are no light sensitive cells and therefore any light that arrives there has no path to the visual areas of the brain. This spot in our retina is called scotoma which is the Greek term for darkness.
They outline an experiment so that you can experience this blind spot. In the experiment we look at a grid with a plus sign that is flanked on both sides with a single dot. We are then invited to cover one eye and hold the grid at arm’s length and then slowly bring the grid closer (to approximately six inches away) and then hold it there. You begin to note that the dot disappears on the same side as your exposed eye. Then you can try this on the other eye.
When we do this experiment to check out our own blind spot we get to see that our brain actually does something remarkable: It alters our perception by filling in the blind spot for us. If you try this you will notice that the grid markings remain there! Try out the experiment yourself. Below I have a link to neuroscience for kids, and it has a grid to check out your own blind spot!
This is a great visual perception; however, we actually have a large set of biases that are hidden. In the book "Blindspot" the authors question our mind's blind spot and the extent our perceptions of others, without our own awareness or conscious control, can shape our likes and our judgements about the individual’s character, abilities and even their potential.
In the book the authors write about their research with The Implicit Association Test (IAT) and they try to give us a glimpse, through science, into why we experience these hidden biases. Most importantly, the book helps to enlighten us so that we can strive to align our behavior with our intentions and outsmart our mental blind spots.
The book invites us or helps us to begin to counteract our prejudices by helping us to make the hidden bias a visible one for us to work on. Through awareness we can attempt to adapt our beliefs and then accordingly our behavior.
If you want to try the Implicit Awareness Test (IAT) there is a link below. The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts and evaluations or stereotypes. It measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. It is attempting to help you recognize your implicit stereotypes.
An implicit stereotype is one that occurs outside of conscious awareness and control. It is believed that if you are aware you can work to remain alert to its existence and to attempt to influence your outward behavior. As well, you can also try consciously planned actions that will compensate for what is considered your implicit preferences. Research shows that you can manage and change your implicit preferences.
“There is brightness and richness in the moment. Ripeness that simply says, "taste this," cause us to partake without fear or any thought of punishment. It is the fruit of our experience and in its heart it bears the seed of all our hopes. Take the joy – take all it gives. Life is sweet and it is ours as is our right to love and relish every moment.”
Banaji, M.R., & Greenwald, A.G. (2013). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. Random House, Inc., New York.
Neuroscience for kids (nd).
Harvard University (nd). Implicit Association Test.
Katie Moriarty, PhD, CNM, CAFCI, FACNM, RN is a professor on faculty at Frontier Nursing University and a Certified Nurse-Midwife with WSUPG CNM Service at Hutzel Women’s Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Katie serves on the Board of Directors for the American College of Nurse-Midwives as the Region IV Representative. Previously she was the Associate Director of the Nurse-Midwifery Education Program at the University of Michigan.
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