Beyond prejudice: you can learn to think again

Beyond prejudice: you can learn to think again

We all think – often unconsciously – whether we like it or not. And that is not necessarily bad, because it is inextricably linked to how we as humans get to know the world. For example, it helps us to recognize things faster or to perform tasks more easily based on experiences we have had before. The downside is that our brains tend to form prejudices that are hard to get rid of. Professor of neuropsychology Erik Scherder explained The Big Box Experiment Find out where these prejudices come from and what you can do to reduce them.

Although we like to distance ourselves from ‘box thinking’, it is almost impossible to avoid it in everyday life. We consider it short-term and generally don’t like being pigeonholed ourselves, but at the same time need it to function normally. In the video below from the University of the Netherlands, professor of social psychology Daniël Wigboldus explains that our urge to categorize and put things in boxes has an important function.

However, there are also drawbacks to the way our brains categorize information. This leads, for example, to us also unintentionally and unconsciously categorizing people. On the basis of, for example, certain characteristics, external characteristics or behaviour, we label people and create associations and stereotypes. Even before we really get to know someone, we have an image or expectation of that person based solely on the box we’ve placed the person in based on our first impression. This is how our brains are programmed to process information.

Socially, we’d rather get rid of these kinds of prejudices than get rich, and with the necessary training, we can actually teach our brains to handle information differently. An important first step is to be aware that your brain tends to create prejudices, even if you don’t want to. Only then can you actively begin to reprogram your brain, so to speak. Wigboldus enters this video explains why it can even be dangerous if you don’t recognize that associations and prejudices arise unconsciously in your brain.

In the EO program The Big Box Experiment pigeonholing was thoroughly investigated and subjects were deliberately divided into different groups (category). Based on various generalizing statements, we looked at the state of prejudice in our country, and the subjects indicated how it feels to be prejudiced themselves. Professor of neuropsychology Erik Scherder explained the processes in our brain that are associated with prejudice. Often these thoughts stem from a fear reaction in the brain, he explained. He also gave tips on how we can let it affect our behavior less.

It’s not such an easy job, says Scherder, otherwise we wouldn’t be bothered so much and the problem wouldn’t be there. If we want to tackle our prejudices, we have to make a real effort. Scherder: “You notice in yourself that you develop the feeling that you think: why am I thinking this about the fat lady, or about the man with the dark skin, or about anyone. That feeling is a conflict within yourself, you think: I don’t want to feel that. And that’s where the process has to start by saying ‘no, I’m against that, I think that’s unfair’. The networks in the brain involved in this, in turn, inhibit the areas that represent fear. And then you feel the feeling of aversion or aversion diminish.”

It also helps to imagine what it’s like for the other person to be so prejudiced. Adopting such a perspective activates the same inhibitory networks that control that feeling of disgust. Other ways to reduce prejudice are, for example, to point out to each other when people are unfairly placed in boxes, and to seek contact with people about whom you (unconsciously) form prejudices. Then you will automatically notice that these prejudices do not always correspond to reality.

Look at here the full broadcast of The Big Box Experiment. Would you like to know more about how to avoid being influenced by prejudice and discriminatory thoughts? So take a look this video from the University of the Netherlands.

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