This Is What Happens When You Retrain a Prejudiced Brain
Author:NeuroGym Team |2017
What if we told you that your brain was making prejudiced decisions without your awareness? You may think that you’re prejudice-free, but in reality, our brains are wired to discriminate.
According to neuroscience researcher Mark Waldman, “The human brain has a propensity to reject any belief that is not in accord with its own view. The brain’s natural functioning is to divide objects, people, and ideas into groups. The brain will tend to express a preference for one and a dislike for the other."
In other words, the brain is naturally biased to reject those who don't embrace our beliefs.
In his book, The Nature of Prejudice, Dr. Gordon Allport reveals that all humans are born with an innate tendency to stick to their own kind, so-to-speak. Throughout the history of humanity, it was likely advantageous to stick to one’s tribe for safety reasons.
In ancient times, if you saw someone who didn’t look like you and your family, it was most likely someone from another tribe, and you may have felt threatened. Your brain would have reacted immediately to keep you from danger in one way or another—by freezing in fright, taking flight, or fighting for your life.
As humans evolved, we began to relate to each other more. And as multicultural societies developed, this animalistic brain function became an issue of grave concern. Brain scans have even revealed activity in the amygdala (the fear center of the brain) when two people of different ethnicities first see each other. And the tragedy happens when people believe their group is somehow superior to another group (whether outwardly or non-consciously).
The good news? Once we’re aware of the tendency to discriminate, we have the power to change it--thanks to neuroplasticity . . .
This Innercise is rooted in proven psychology and the latest advancements in neuroscience. Try it when you’re in a public place, surrounded by many people.
How to Overcome Your Natural Biases
Take a moment to look around, and notice all of the unique individuals in your midst.
Notice if you start stereotyping, and be aware of the biases naturally arising in your mind.
Focus on one person who you would naturally be biased against, for whatever reason (even if consciously, you don’t have anything against them).
Notice if you feel triggered, defensive, or pity for the person.
Keeping your focus on that person, say this affirmation in your head: “May you be filled with love and peace.”
What did you notice while doing this Innercise? Did your perception shift at all? Did you feel more connected to this person, or maybe even to all individuals?
We all have an inherent inclination to judge others, but luckily, we all have the power to adapt and change. There’s no need to feel bad if you find yourself caught in a stereotype, or drawn to certain people over others.
However, now that you're aware of this brain pattern, it’s up to you to evolve, treat others equally, and help the world overcome the tendency to be preferential to "our own kind."
And the more you can retrain your brain to react lovingly, and minimize amygdala activity, the more joy and success you’ll experience in your life.
Open mindedness is much more beneficial than discrimination, separation, and racism. And as Waldman says, “Eliminating bias is healthy for your brain, and most forms of spiritual practice and mindfulness will stimulate the circuits involved in empathy, compassion, and fairness.”
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About The Author
NeuroGym Team: NeuroGym’s Team of experts consists of neuroscientists, researchers, and staff who are enthusiasts in their fields. The team is committed to making a difference in the lives of others by sharing the latest scientific findings to help you change your life by understanding and using the mindset, skill set and action set to change your brain.