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Intro = The Anatomy of Bias updated

Transcript: In my TED talk on the Anatomy of Bias, I shared personal experiences and lots of science. I have an upcoming opportunity to give an updated version of this talk at a seminar for the NIH, so to prepare, I’ll create some short videos outlining my current thoughts.Here’s the idea in a nutshell: two different areas of our brain work somewhat separately from each other. Conscious thought centers hold information about our highest ideals, and it is here that we are most devoted to DEI and maybe even believe ourselves to be free of bias. Totally separate structures are in charge of our unconscious automatic behaviors, and often these brain areas are not “listening” to the more enlightened conscious thoughts but work off of stubbornly embedded experiences. THUS we behave in ways that are not in keeping with how we consciously identify, and we act in biased ways, constantly. We can train those unconscious behavior centers to do better. We can work to eliminate our biases.

Do we have an unconscious bias that women’s voices are not the voices of leaders? As I continue to explore the brain’s bias activity, I want to continue to focus for the moment on sensations and how they are processed in the human brain. Down the line I’m going to consider how the experience of bias influences our information processing centers and our decision making, and even influences our own behaviors and reactions, even before we have consciously decided to act. But we have work to do at the sensory level first. Even at this first, sesnory level of brain processing, where information is coming in about the world, the way that we perceive sensations can be influenced heavily by our emotions, and our sensations are kind of not true, they are processed in a biased manner. The sensations one person experiences may be quite different than the way someone else might experience the same things, because of the way an external stimulus comes into the brain. I have been considering how auditory, sound, information enters the brain. In the last few years, biotechnology has advanced to the point where we are starting to understand at a cellular level how our biases influence our experiences of sounds. Whereas we think our perception of sound is logical and conscious and goes through the high level auditory cortex, and this seems true to us, in fact sounds are processed first through the emotional centers. The time course difference is something like 30 msec for emotional processing, and 200 msec, a full fifth of a second, for higher level processing in the cerebral cortex. So our emotions filter what’s coming in first. Plus, the emotional centers such as the amygdala (somewhat the fear center) and ventral tegmental area (an important part of the reward pathway) send amplifying signals to the auditory cortex to further influence what we consider to be our true understanding of sounds. Our emotions are puppeteers, controlling our perceptions to a level that we haven’t fully understood until about the last five years, when technology started to paint a more complete picture. To my understanding, the lesson here is clear. We can consciously overcome our impulsive unconscious, emotional reaction for example – to the sound of a woman’s voice – we can consciously understand that her voice is simply different and every bit as respectable as a man’s … but in fact we have to work harder at overcoming our assumptions, than we’ve previously realized. We are generally sent messages throughout our lifetimes that women are not natural leaders, and when we see women in leadership, it’s easy to take them down and disrespect them when for example, we hear them speak, and our automatic emotional reaction is to dismiss their voices as weak or nonserious. We need to continuously send messages through the auditory cortex that we are not going to assume women have weaker voices, but that effort would require us to be aware of our biases and work to overcome them. Unfortunately, there is shame paired wtih admitting to bias, even though everyone is bised, it seems it’s a natural consequence of our societal norms! We have work to do. I’m going to be moving on to the experience of how we perceive vision, and we’re going to see some of the same patterns, where we perceive a visual stimulus in a biased, emotional manner from the start. First up though, we will have a discussion about the interesting intersection between visual perception and auditory perception. How much do they influence each other?