August 15, 2013

Reducing Bias and Prejudice

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

How can we work to reduce bias and prejudice?

In past research we have seen that working together on a common task with equal status reduces bias and prejudice. The film, American History X, has a good example of that as the main characters work together in the prison laundry and slowly get to know each other as human beings rather than as members of different races about which they have strong opinions. Homeboy Industries, the Los Angeles gang intervention program that Karen Sternheimer has blogged about, includes former gang rivals working together to eliminate conflict. However, considering the issues of confirmation bias, where we seek out information that reinforces our pre-existing beliefs,  not to mention the impracticality of setting up such situations, these might not always work to reduce bias and prejudice. What else can we do?

National Public Radio (NPR) science correspondent Shankar Vedantum recently discussed an interesting study. University of Virginia professor Calvin Lai along with a team of researchers, some affiliated with Harvard’s Project Implicit , studied eighteen strategies to assess effectiveness in reducing racial bias.

They found education about injustice was not a particularly effective method, nor was asking people to have empathy for others. The top three most effective strategies involve more than one technique, suggesting that multiple techniques must be used. These effective strategies do have one thing in common; they all involve “counterstereotypical” images.

Observing images that are counter to what we expect to see, based on societal biases, train us to see, perceive, and accept what those images present. In the NPR interview, one of the researchers mentions that her favorite image was that of a construction worker nursing her baby.

Later while out and about, I saw something that can also be considered a counter stereotypical

Photo by Lance Northcott (edited by Sally Raskoff)
image. I noticed a man who appeared to be homeless; he has a number of bags filled with his belongings, he was wearing dirty clothes. As he was standing on the sidewalk, he was getting warm and proceeded to remove his shirt and shoes. He was also twirling a sign for a nearby business and talking to two men getting into a Bentley in the parking lot behind him.

I found it rather ironic that the business was selling nutritional supplements while this man seemed to be both not the type of customer they have nor a person whose own nutrition was adequate.

But I have found myself thinking about it often – fascinated that a business would hire a homeless man to advertise for them. This type of image or situation might help people to see that homeless people can and do work.

What other counterstereotypical images have you noticed? Confirmation bias can keep us from actually perceiving such things, but if we start looking for them, we will find them.




TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Reducing Bias and Prejudice:


I felt that this article was sociological for two reasons: First, it talked about biases and prejudices, which are largely based on class and status, two very important concepts in sociology. Second, the article talked about strategies to eliminate these things, which is a form of social change, something that sociologist study. Status and class are basically the different groups that people in societies naturally form and belong too, and the labels that people put on them. Prejudices and biases are nothing more than our believing that the labels are true, and that everyone in a group is the same. I firmly believed that if one generation simply changed what they told the children of the next generation as they grew up, then those prejudices could be completely eliminated. I do not, however, believe that will every actually happen, due to the strength of peoples belief in the labels.
I also felt drawn to this specific article because I have always believed that biases can cause people to conform to what they say, simply because they are told they are true. If a young African-American child grows up being told that they will amount to nothing more than a criminal, then they are almost certain to end up a criminal. Furthermore, even if that child is not a criminal, if they are ever in a questionable situation, that bias could cause another person, such as a police officer, to automatically assume that child is indeed a criminal, and arrest them for something they might not have done. There is a saying, “stereotypes exist for a reason”, and I have always thought that the reason they exist, is because people blindly believe them, and that if just one generation stopped believing them, then they would cease to exist.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Become a Fan

The Society Pages Community Blogs

Interested in Submitting a Guest Post?

If you're a sociology instructor or student and would like us to consider your guest post for please .

Norton Sociology Books

You May Ask Yourself

Learn More

Essentials of Sociology

Learn More

The Family

Learn More

The Real World

Learn More

Introduction to Sociology

Learn More

The Everyday Sociology Reader

Learn More

« Sacred Lines and Symbols: A Journey Through Japan | Main | Going on a Media Diet »