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Examining Prejudice from a Neurological Basis

Prejudice and discrimination are all familiar terms, despite the context in which they are presented in. To be familiar with the idea of prejudice and discrimination means that a person is simply acquainted with it, but the question is whether or not they understand what it is, and why they are hardwired to do such things. Simply put, the prefix of prejudice is to “pre-judge”. In other words, prejudice is a type of bias that can manifest explicitly but more often than not implicitly. Prejudices are evaluative or affective reactions toward an individual or group strictly based on preconceptions (Amodio, 2014). It is possible to have “positive prejudice” for an example, having a preference for waffles over pancakes. Unfortunately, society has more pressing concerns with regard to prejudice than which breakfast item is superior namely, discrimination. Just as prejudice, discrimination can present itself in a number of ways racially, sexually, etc. each just as hideous as the next. In technical terminology, discrimination refers to the favorable or unfavorable behavior directed at either the individual or group (Gilovich et al., 2019). Essentially prejudice is an emotional bias and discrimination is a behavioral bias. It is easy to think that some people are biased, and others are not, but neuroscience begs to differ. In fact, research is indicative that prejudice and discrimination is the result of neurological hardwiring. Neuroscience refers to this phenomenon as the “stereotyping network” specifically involving the lateral and anterior temporal lobes, the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus (Amodio, 2014). Additionally, amygdala activation in response to fear primes the brain to foster implicit prejudice. What is important is that each of these regions in the brain play a role is visual perception, which is one of the earliest instincts to develop as an infant. From the time someone is just months old, their fusiform gyrus is primed to visually perceive faces that look similar to theirs. Thus, implicit bias is already well under construction. However, implicit bias is not necessarily inherently evil, it is only when this bias creates an “us versus them” mentality that causes collateral damage. Implicit attitudes are much harder to detect than racist behavior for example, because they operate outside of conscious awareness. This is part of the reason why modern racism is so easy to be facilitated instead of eradicated. To clarify, intrinsic neurological functioning is not excusing any form of prejudice or discrimination because humans also have the physiological capability to practice self-awareness and employ self-regulation. The Implicit Association Test developed by Harvard is designed to do just that. Although it is impossible to turn off the stereotyping networks as mentioned previously, it is possible to cross-examine one’s own implicit biases and attitudes by bringing them into conscious awareness. Bias is not the issue lack of self-awareness is. 


For more information and resources please visit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

Amodio, M. D. (2014). The neuroscience of prejudice and stereotyping. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 15(10), 670-682. https://doi-org.lopes.idm.oclc.org/10.1038/nrn3800

Gilovich, T., Kettner, D., Chen, S., & Nisbett, R. E. (2019). Social Psychology. New York: W.w. Norton & Company. https://digital.wwnorton.com/44952/r/goto/cfi/168!/4

My name is Kayla Murphy and I was born and raised in Phoenix. I am currently a freshman studying Psychology with a minor in Behavioral Health Science. Apart from writing I love painting and reading books.
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