Friday, April 25, 2008

I like math problems, too

I read a fascinating article this morning about the psychology of stereotypes:

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. [Belgian psychologist Wim] De Neys basically wanted see if stereotypical thinking is a detection problem or a self-control problem.

. . . .

De Neys watched volunteers’ brains as they puzzled through this and similar problems [pitting statistical probability against stereotypical conclusions]. He found . . . 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 . . . 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.

Fascinating.  We can get past our stereotypical thinking, we just have to learn how.  Knowledge is power, eh?

No comments: