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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Identity » The Neurology of Disgust /Neurology & Stereotypes

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Author Topic: The Neurology of Disgust /Neurology & Stereotypes
Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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My once-apartment-mate Philip Miner (note to younger people about something no one tells you about getting older: the world never, ever stops shrinking, getting smaller and smaller and smaller -- it's cool) has this piece up at the Huffington Post today:

He's got a lot of great things to say about growing up gay, but centers this around a TED talk and this information here: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/onlyhuman/2008/04/neurology-of-stereotypes_24.cfm

From that last link:
quote:
Psychologist Wim De Neys of Leuven University, Belgium, decided that the best way to explore these questions was to actually look at the brain in action. Past research has shown that a particular region of the brain’s frontal lobe becomes active when we detect conflict in our thinking—between an easy stereotype, say, and a more reasoned and complex view. But actually overriding stereotypical thinking requires another part of the frontal lobe. De Neys basically wanted see if stereotypical thinking is a detection problem or a self-control problem. To see, he watched these two brain regions during stereotypical thinking, to see what lit up.

He used a classic psychology problem to make people summon up the stereotypes residing in their neurons. Here’s how it works: Say there’s a room with 1000 people in it, and we know that 995 are lawyers and the other five are engineers. We get to meet just one of these people, named Jack, picked randomly from the group. We learn that Jack is 45-years-old and has four children. He has little interest in politics or social issues and is generally conservative. He likes sailing and mathematical puzzles. Is Jack a lawyer, or an engineer?

Well, which is he? Logically, if you use the statistical part of your brain only, the obvious answer is that he’s a lawyer, simply because there are all those lawyers in the room and there’s a better chance of meeting a lawyer in the room than an engineer. But a lot of people immediately say engineer because Jack fits a stereotype. The majority of even highly educated people do this. Others do say lawyer—and so quickly that it seems instantaneous—but the question is whether the brain needs to quash that powerful engineer caricature in order to give the more reasoned response.

De Neys watched volunteers’ brains as they puzzled through this and similar problems. He found (and describes in the May issue of the journal Psychological Science) that the brain’s stereotype detector lit up regardless of whether the subject answered stereotypically or rationally. So apparently we all detect the stereotype and recognize that it is out of sync with reality. But the brain’s inhibition center—the part of the brain that says, “No, I am not falling for that simplistic idea”—lit up only when the subjects actually reasoned that Jack was a lawyer—that is, only when they overrode the stereotype and made a calculation based on probability. Apparently some of us find the ready caricatures too tempting and use them anyway, against our better judgment.

See what happened there?

Long story short -- and probably no big surprise -- when people fall to stereotyping, they're literally not thinking fully. It's lazy thinking where all of the parts of the brain aren't engaged. When people override stereotyping, they are literally using far more of their brain, and using it more completely and harmonically.

This probably isn't news: it's not like it's news that stereotyping is a lazy, small-minded thing to do.

But I figure if and when you're having a moment where you're getting stereotyped, it might be a comfort to know whoever is doing that truly isn't using their brain. If you're having a moment where you are stereotyping, you're not, and keeping that in mind -- as it were -- might help you to take a few seconds and truly engage all of your brain and, literally, rethink things.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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That Strange CT child
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So when my mom says "most normal people would think blah blah about bleh bleh", she really just is saying normal peeps r stupid for not using their whole brain? [Big Grin]

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It is my hope that what i ask here is answered for me and anyone else afraid to ask the same question :)

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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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Heh.

Well, she might not think so, but I'd say that yes, if someone tells you about how others conform to stereotypes, they are telling you about the ways people are thinking poorly or far too simply.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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oneboikyle
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That is amazing, thank you for sharing it! It's really got me thinking, and as I'm always looking for ways to reduce my stereotyping, I'm hoping that I'll remember this and challenge myself more often.

I'll be honest, reading that extract, I sat here and thought "Engineer. No, wait - there's more lawyers, so, lawyer?" I really wasn't sure what to think until I read on, and that's with an awareness that it was examining stereotyping. Scary stuff, how easily it is done...

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