Do siblings have a bias toward believing they look different from each other?

Do siblings have a bias toward believing they look different from each other?

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Anecdotally, I have observed (myself included) that siblings tend to think that they look less similar to each other than an unrelated observer would say. Is there any experimental data to back this up, or am I completely wrong?

You are not completely wrong but not completely right either. Some siblings tend to think they are less similar to each other, even twins. It may or may not have scientific reason, but it has sociological reason behind it. Every people in our society want to have their own separate identity and they do not want themselves to be compared with others even with their siblings.It might be also due to the result of fact that, siblings pass times with each other so often that they notice distinct differences in both their characteristics and look while ordinary people, looking at them for the first time, can not notice the differences. This is related to the reason why we can not sometime recognize people from any particular race or ethnicity at first look.

Optimism bias

Optimism bias (or the optimistic bias) is a cognitive bias that causes someone to believe that they themselves are less likely to experience a negative event. It is also known as unrealistic optimism or comparative optimism.

Optimism bias is common and transcends gender, ethnicity, nationality, and age. [1] Optimistic biases are even reported in non-human animals such as rats and birds. [2]

Four factors can cause a person to be optimistically biased: their desired end state, their cognitive mechanisms, the information they have about themselves versus others, and overall mood. [3] The optimistic bias is seen in a number of situations. For example: people believing that they are less at risk of being a crime victim, [4] smokers believing that they are less likely to contract lung cancer or disease than other smokers, first-time bungee jumpers believing that they are less at risk of an injury than other jumpers, [5] or traders who think they are less exposed to potential losses in the markets. [6]

Although the optimism bias occurs for both positive events (such as believing oneself to be more financially successful than others) and negative events (such as being less likely to have a drinking problem), there is more research and evidence suggesting that the bias is stronger for negative events (the valence effect). [3] [7] Different consequences result from these two types of events: positive events often lead to feelings of well being and self-esteem, while negative events lead to consequences involving more risk, such as engaging in risky behaviors and not taking precautionary measures for safety. [3]

Siblings of Influence

rowing up, I saw my sister as the authority on just about every thing. Seven years older, she had it all figured out: sports, fashion, friends, boys, school. Sometimes, when I was cool enough to hang out with her, she practiced make-up on me.

Look up, my sister directed. I sat patiently on the bathroom countertop, obediently looking up. Concentrating hard, she drew a thick brown line underneath my bottom eyelid. Okay, now close it, she commanded. I closed my eyes and tried to keep very still. She added another fat line on the top lid. Aren't there any cute boys in your class?

Now the tiny diamond-shaped foam tip of the eye-shadow wand slid across my eye-lid. More in the crease. Another shade beneath the brow. Well?

I don't know, I answered sheepishly. Can I open my eyes?

What do you mean you don't know? I opened my eyes to see her coming at me with a spiral-tipped stick covered in black goop. Sit very still, she said. Don't move and don't blink.

Gingie, what's that? I asked, glad to change the subject. I had just started thinking boys were maybe less than disgusting. But cute?

Mascara. Don't move. I focused all my effort on keeping my eyelids open and still. The goop felt wet, and then my eyelashes stiffened. I jerked back my head, surprised at this new sensation, and started to blink. No, no. You can't blink yet, she grumbled, her face scrunched up in irritation. It's all over your face now, she scolded, spitting on a tissue to wipe it off.

After doing the other eye, we were ready for blush—really ready. Finally she had her chance to cure my "paleness," to give me color.

Open your mouth like this, she demonstrated, as if saying "HO! HO! HO!" I eagerly obliged, convinced I needed color too, but more importantly to keep her distracted from the boy subject. Wielding a fluffy makeup brush in her right hand, she painted my cheeks with fuchsia powder.

Now, open your mouth like this, she yawned. Quite pleased with herself so far, she completed her masterpiece. With lip liner, she etched a perfect outline around the edges of my lips, as carefully as she'd done with my eyes, and then filled in the lines with lipstick, just as I colored in unicorns in my coloring books.

You're beautiful! she exclaimed as we strutted down to the kitchen for our parents' admiration. Impressed, they brought out the camera and praised us both, she for her artistry and me for my beauty. We smiled delightedly at each other for the camera.

guess I always knew my sister affected who I am, but I never took the time to think about how or why she wielded such influence. It was obvious: She was my sister. She had always been in my life.

But how did my sister influence me differently than your sister influenced you? Does it matter that she was a girl and not a boy, and that I was too? What would it have been like if I had been born first?

"Siblings influence each other's development in very important ways," says Susan McHale, a professor of human development at Penn State. "They're a significant part of family life during childhood. But surprisingly, researchers have paid very little attention to sibling relationships."

McHale hops up from her chair and goes to the loaded bookshelf just outside her office. From rows and rows of books, their titles ranging from in-depth family studies to ones like Born to Rebel, she pulls the last book of the four-volume Handbook of Child Psychology, the definitive guide to the study of child development. Settling back into her chair, she flips to the index and scans it intently. Then, pushing the thick volume toward me, she points to the pages and pages listing the various influences on child development, from parents to peers to pre-school. Only 16 of some 5,000 pages mention siblings.

McHale won the Evan G. and Helen G. Pattishall Outstanding Research Achievement Award from the College of Human Health and Development in 1998 for her studies of children's family relationships. Over the past 15 years, she and colleague Ann Crouter have placed siblings at the center of their research. "Demographic trends have made it easier to study siblings," McHale acknowledges. "The move toward smaller family size means that most families now have only two or three children, which cuts down on the sibling permutations you have to study." With Crouter, McHale has studied such issues as family experience when both parents are employed, the daily activities of children with disabled and non-disabled siblings, and most recently, gender role socialization and gender development in childhood and adolescence.

In 1995, McHale and Crouter began a set of studies that followed 400 families as the children developed during middle childhood and adolescence. Undergraduate student volunteers did 13,200 group and individual interviews in the families' homes and over the phone, while graduate students led interview teams and did data analysis and report writing. For three years the team studied mothers, fathers, and two siblings, two to three years apart in age, from each family. By the end of each study, the younger sibling was about the age the older sibling had been at the beginning. "We can compare siblings when they are at about the same age, at different points in time, and also compare them at the same time, when they are different ages," says McHale. The results, she adds, "have been eye-opening."

Siblings influence each other in such areas as identity development, relationships with others (parents and friends), and degree of sex-typing, that is, how much girls and boys express stereotypically male or female qualities. "Two children experience the same family differently," McHale says, "not only because they have different experiences but because they interpret shared circumstances differently as well."

iblings wield influence both directly and indirectly. "Indirectly," McHale says, "siblings can influence one another by comparing ways their parents treat them. They see what kinds of privileges, discipline, attention, and time their mothers and fathers dedicate to them relative to their sisters and brothers." My own sister, for instance, whined endlessly when I was allowed to have a television at age nine. Why does she get a TV in her bedroom? she moaned.

I was way older than that before I could. To me, it seemed she had the most privileges. I was always "too little" to stay up late or watch "big kid movies" with her friends.

"Children can feel jealous if they see their sibling getting privileged treatment," McHale explains. "On the other hand, if they see their sibling getting more discipline they might begin to develop a sense that they are the 'good kid' in the family. If they see their sibling getting more attention for sports or academic accomplishments they might believe themselves to be the 'unathletic' or 'dumb' kid—even when they are actually as good as other kids their own age in these arenas." A girl who sees her brother absolved from housework may learn that these chores are part of being a girl. "Children learn who they are not only by how they're treated, but also by how they see others being treated."

cHale and Crouter learned that siblings develop in different ways when they adopt or get assigned a certain niche within the family. A child's family niche helps answer the "Who am I?" question it defines a child's identity. "The family niches we choose or are given have implications for how we spend our time, the friends we choose, and even our career choices. Many researchers argue that first-borns usually get first dibs on choosing a family niche," McHale adds. A younger child, then, may engage in "niche picking," choosing territory that isn't already claimed to define how he or she is unique. If an older child excels at academics, the younger one may turn to sports, even if both children have equal intelligence and potential. In this way, I focused on my schoolwork when my sister became a starter for the volleyball team. Even when I was old enough to try out for sports, my lack of ability in basketball became painfully apparent in the one season I played, and I didn't make it past first cuts for the volleyball team, despite my sister's lessons. I added music to academics to define my own niche, rather than struggle fruitlessly in hers. This process of choosing differences is called "sibling de-identification," and it may begin prior to puberty—before children realize they are doing it—as well as occurring consciously during adolescence.

"One theory is that children try to maximize resources in terms of time and attention from their parents. Children choose a sphere that is uniquely theirs," McHale says. This may allow children time with their parents when they don't have to compete for attention.

Developing individuality is not the only way brothers and sisters affect one another. "Siblings copy each other too," McHale says. "They interact, reinforce behavior, serve as models, and introduce each other to experiences. For example, older siblings can be a conduit to adolescent culture." Younger children frequently copy the way an older sibling talks or dresses (or, as in my case, they actually wear their sibling's old clothes). This copycat behavior, of course, is not always positive—it can lead to what McHale calls "delinquent activity and risky behavior."

According to social learning theories, we are most likely to copy a person we perceive as powerful, as warm and loving—or as like us. If a sibling, especially an older one, possesses any of these three traits, he or she is likely to be influential. A powerful but hostile older sibling may not have the same level of influence.

"A sibling's friends also become accessible, offering a new set of experiences," says McHale. A younger child can gain familiarity with another age group or the opposite sex, just as I became used to teenagers while still in elementary school. Girls and boys generally segregate themselves during grade-school years, then start to interact more as they begin to date. Adolescents with a sibling of the opposite sex may be more comfortable with this transition.

How do your brothers and sisters influence how sex-typed you'll be? Males are stereotypically more "instrumental": more likely to describe themselves as competitive and adventurous. Females, in contrast, highlight "expressive" qualities, such as sensitivity, kindness, and social concern. "Having an older brother or sister can affect the development of gender identity and personality," McHale says. A boy with older sisters, for example, may be more likely to show traditionally "feminine" characteristics than a boy with older brothers. McHale and Crouter have found that greater sex-typed differences occur in families who value traditional gender roles, such as girls learning arts and crafts while boys play competitive sports. In less-traditional families, brothers and sisters may be more similar.

McHale's research raises some challenging policy issues. For example, "Do kids have the right to see siblings after divorce? It's not on policy makers' minds," she points out. Custody rights for parents are determined, but what if the children are separated? And what about adoption—should siblings be adopted together?

The idea may become significant as people recognize the tremendous influence siblings have on one another's development. You will probably outlive your parents, and you aren't likely to meet a mate until later in life. But a sibling is someone you have a life-long relationship with, even over great distances. This fact is especially true for sisters because women tend to live longer, and longevity is heritable. McHale smiles, "A sibling relationship is likely to be the longest lasting relationship you will have."

How would I be different if my sister was never part of my life?

When we talk about our growing-up experiences, both individual and shared, I have wondered if we were even part of the same family. Not only did we participate in different activities, but we remember the same events differently too. If I viewed our frequent moves as depressing and scary experiences, at least at first she saw them as adventures, challenges—a chance to decorate a new bedroom.

As different as our memories might be, we were clearly a huge factor in each other's development. As an eight-year-old, I barged into her room in our house in Tennessee, planning to hang out with her. At 15, she had other plans. But I wouldn't budge. I planted myself on the end of her bed, determined to make her consider me her very best friend. She was equally resolute: She promptly dragged me by my arms into the hallway and closed the door.

Ignoring the stinging rub burn on my back, I jumped up, grabbed the knob, and started to push before she locked it. I yanked my socks off for more traction on the carpet. I pushed in. She pushed out. Once I managed to shove it open just enough to stick a foot in. Bad idea, I realized. Then I drove the hollow wooden door open a good five inches and lost it. She pushed back hard against no resistance. Slam! We'd broken the lock she'd never be completely safe from my intrusions again.

She's stayed in Tennessee and now, with a husband, two kids, a dog, and a house, she is living a life quite different from my own college experience. But she finally invited me in she began offering her guidance when I really needed it (like not just how to get into college, but how to survive it). Our influence on each other still ties us together, despite the physical distance that separates us. As I dial my sister's phone number, McHale's description resonates with clarity and comfort: "A sibling is a traveler who stays with you throughout life."

Why Do Some People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?

What happens when people see patterns and “clues” in random real-life events and start creating associations where none exist? A conspiracy theory is born.

From “Scooby-Doo” to “Stranger Things” to any Alfred Hitchcock movie, we all love picking up clues, recognizing patterns, and figuring out things for ourselves.

You might think you’re not a believer, but a 2019 poll from Insider found that nearly 80% of people in the United States follow at least one unproven theory, conspiracy or not.

You might enjoy the thrill that conspiracy theories offer. But is there more to it?

Let’s dig into the psychology behind conspiracy theories.

A conspiracy theory is an idea that a group of people is working together in secret to accomplish evil goals.

Now, sometimes in the real world, people indeed do wicked things. We just have to look at criminal networks like the mafia, terrorist groups, and sex trafficking rings, for example. Even high-level political figures and celebrities get involved from time to time.

So, how do you tell the difference between real plots and conspiracy theories? Well, sometimes you don’t know right away, but there are ways to find out.

Criminal cases are built on solid and provable evidence — not hunches, coincidences, or fabricated information like memes or social media posts.

On the other hand, when you closely examine the facts, conspiracy theories don’t hold up.

What makes conspiracy theories more deceptive is that they are woven into real-life events — all strung together in a fictional way. So, in some instances, they might make sense. But when you dig deeper, you start noticing the lack of consistency and fact-based proof.

And no, lack of proof shouldn’t be taken as evidence for the conspiracy. That’s the whole point.

Conspiracy theories often take flight during unsettling times.

For example, in a pandemic, during a close election in a politically divided country, or after a terrorist attack.

Painful and uncertain times might lead many people to find alternative ways to make sense of such a shocking or painful situation.

Following a conspiracy theory might help you feel you understand the events, and, in turn, this could alleviate some uncertainty and anxiety.

There’s more to conspiracy theories than the need to make sense of shocking events, though.

Personality traits of conspiracy theorists

Is everyone vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking? Not necessarily.

Conspiracy theory experts have found that certain cognitive styles and personality traits might be common among people who believe in them.

According to a 2018 study, people who believe in conspiracy theories tend to show personality traits and characteristics such as:

  • paranoid or suspicious thinking
  • eccentricity
  • low trust in others
  • stronger need to feel special
  • belief in the world as a dangerous place
  • seeing meaningful patterns where none exist

The strongest predictor of belief in conspiracy theories, according to the study, is having a personality that falls into the spectrum of schizotypy.

Schizotypy is a set of personality traits that can range from magical thinking and dissociative states to disorganized thinking patterns and psychosis.

Examples of mental health conditions in the schizotypy spectrum include schizotypal and schizoid personality disorders and schizophrenia.

Not all schizotypy personality traits translate into a personality or psychiatric disorder, though.

Many people have one or two symptoms of schizotypy but don’t qualify for a full diagnosis.

Preliminary research also suggests that belief in conspiracy theories is linked to people’s need for uniqueness. The higher the need to feel special and unique, the more likely a person is to believe a conspiracy theory.

Other personality traits commonly linked to the tendency to believe or follow conspiracy theories include:

The link between personality traits and personal beliefs is a complex one that cannot be explained by isolating social and cultural factors, though. Research on the topic is still limited.

Suspicion: An evolutionary advantage?

Humans seem to be prone to suspicious thoughts and paranoia.

In fact, some experts have studied paranoia and suspicious thoughts as an important evolutionary advantage.

One of them is professor of clinical psychiatry Richard A. Friedman, MD, who writes in his viewpoint paper, “Why Humans Are Vulnerable to Conspiracy Theories”:

“Having the capacity to imagine and anticipate that other people might form coalitions and conspire to harm one’s clan would confer a clear adaptive advantage: a suspicious stance toward others, even if mistaken, would be a safer strategy than carefree trust.”

In other words, from an evolutionary perspective, a conspiracy theory might help you stay safer if your rival attacks, as you have already anticipated their moves.

“The paranoia that drives individuals to constantly scan the world for danger and suspect the worst of others probably once provided a similar survival edge,” Friedman adds.

Illusory patterns

Believing in conspiracy theories can also be linked to distortions in cognitive processes.

Illusory pattern perception refers to perceiving meaningful or coherent connections between nonrelated events.

In other words, a distortion in how you think might make you prone to seeing patterns between events where there are none.

A 2018 study tested this theory and found that distortions of normal cognitive processes were repeatedly associated with conspiracy and irrational beliefs.

In the study, under controlled circumstances, participants detected patterns in randomly generated stimuli. This helped them make sense of their environment and respond well to each situation, even when the connections didn’t really exist.

A 2008 study found that lacking control in a situation increased a person’s likelihood to perceive nonexistent patterns, including developing superstitions and believing in conspiracies.

Participants who felt they lacked control connected unrelated events more often than participants who felt they understood and had some degree of control in a situation.

Apophenia: The tendency to connect the dots

The human tendency to seek and find patterns everywhere is indeed something that has often been linked to believing in conspiracy theories.

The human brain has evolved into seeing patterns in just about everything. It’s an evolutionary advantage but also a natural tendency.

We recognize animal figures in the clouds or uncover creepy faces in the bathroom wallpaper at night. If we meet three new friends — all named Bill — we tend to notice.

It doesn’t mean that every time we connect the dots we are right, though.

In fact, Friedman explains that humans detect patterns in randomness in an effort to make sense of the world quickly. This process, though, makes us prone to cognitive errors, such as “seeing connections between events when none exist.”

“For a species so intent on connecting the dots and making sense of the world, this information-rich environment is fertile ground for confusion and conspiracy theories,” Friedman explains.

There’s actually a name for this phenomenon: apophenia. This is the tendency to perceive a meaningful connection within random situations.

In other words, you take elements that are near each other by chance, and you see a meaningful and purposeful connection between them.

Experienced game designer Reed Berkowitz says that apophenia is common in the gaming world.

Take one of his games, for example. The goal is to find a clue in a basement to move to the following phase of the game.

The real clue placed by gamers was obvious. However, many of the players overlooked it and instead noticed a few loose floorboards. Then, they concluded their shape was an arrow pointing toward a wall. Consequently, they started tearing down the wall.

“These were normal people, and their assumptions were normal and logical and completely wrong,” Berkowitz wrote in a 2020 column.

There are different types of apophenia. These include:

Pareidolia, or connecting different visual elements and stimuli to form a nonexistent pattern. For example, seeing a face on the bark of a tree, or a specific sign in a light projected on the White House.

Clustering, or the tendency to find a pattern in a random sequence of data. For example, finding logic in a randomly generated sequence such as xvvxvvxxxvx, or seeing a trend in stock market fluctuations.

Gambler’s fallacy, or the inaccurate belief that if an event repeatedly happens during a certain time period, it will then occur less often in the future (or vice versa.) For example, if you toss a coin and get heads four times in a row, you’ll likely bet it’ll be tails next time.

Confirmation bias, or the “my way bias,” refers to the process of disregarding information that might disprove a belief while seeking information that supports it. For example, believing someone often sends secret messages in their speech will make you more likely to find secret messages in such speeches, even when that’s not the case.

A mathematical explanation

Following apophenia, there’s the Ramsey theory. This theory states that any large structure will implicitly contain patterns if you really pay attention.

That way, even in mathematics and geometry, patterns can be found whenever there are enough elements to connect.

So, according to the Ramsey theory, if you were to line up the text of just about any book, you’d find “hidden” words and sometimes several “meaningful” ones in a row.

In other words, if you’re looking for clues somewhere, you’re bound to find some!

QAnon: The excitement of living in ‘fiction’

QAnon, an internet conspiracy theory, has recently captured a large segment of the public’s attention.

It might be a strong indicator of another possible reason underneath some people’s tendency to follow conspiracy theories: the thrill of being the one who knows the secret.

QAnon has become so mainstream you may know at least one believer.

Followers of this conspiracy theory believe that an anonymous government insider, known as “Q,” often drops mysterious clues and riddles to expose the “deep state” apparatus.

According to QAnon believers, these clues range from the color of the lights the White House uses on a specific date to coded messages posted in internet forums.

For QAnon followers, former President Donald Trump is a secret agent fighting to save the world.

Who is he fighting against? A satanic cult of cannibals, pedophiles, and sex traffickers, led by Democratic politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

For some people, learning more about QAnon might just be a matter of curiosity.

For followers, QAnon might be convincing because its theories often play on:

  • people’s fears
  • the need to feel one is an empathetic person (e.g., saving the children)
  • a natural thrill to solve mysteries
  • a desire to be part of a like-minded group
  • an explanation and a possible hopeful future for things not going “your way” right now

Also, QAnon might offer the thrill of a game.

Yes. The constant search for secret clues in mysterious places might give you the dopamine rush of “unlocking levels” in a video game.

In fact, when Berkowitz saw what QAnon was all about, he immediately recognized Q’s tactics.

Berkowitz has vast experience creating stories and games that begin on a computer and move to the real world. To him, QAnon has a very “game-like feel.”

“When I saw QAnon, I knew exactly what it was and what it was doing. I had seen it before. I had almost built it before,” he said in his column. “It was gaming’s evil twin. A game that plays people.”

When asked by Psych Central why he thought QAnon was so alluring, Berkowitz summed it up:

“QAnon explains the world in terms of vibrant fictions and gives its members ‘permission’ to believe in these fictions as facts.”

It’s like living in a movie or a game.

“It offers an accepting community of like-minded people and a worldview that puts members in the center of an exciting ‘reality’ that they have an active role in affecting,” Berkowitz tells Psych Central. “QAnon is alluring because it gives life the intensity and emotional vibrancy of living in a fiction.”

He adds: “It’s about being in a community of people all working together to help save the world and solve a mystery that is always just about to be revealed.”

The Consequences of Ingroup Bias

As you might quickly realize, ingroup bias can have serious real-world implications. Such attitudes often contribute to prejudice and even hostility toward outgroup members. Children often experience bullying, loneliness, and exclusion thanks to the ingroup bias as kids form small groups often referred to as cliques.

In the workplace, people might find themselves favoring certain people who are part of their unit or work group. Sometimes these effects are just minor, but in some cases they can have a serious impact on how we interact with others and even how we see ourselves.

On a larger scale, the ingroup bias can contribute to major conflict between groups of people. Each group labels outgroup members as the enemy, leading to arguments, strife, and even war.

Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. (2010). Social psychology. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

Tajfel, H. (1982) Social identity and intergroup relations, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press

The problem of artificial intelligence

Another concern was over artificial intelligence. Here the concern was not so much existential. By this, I mean the speakers were not fearful that some computer was going to wake up into consciousness and decide that the human race needed to be enslaved. Instead, the danger was more subtle but no less potent. Susan Halpern, also one of our greatest non-fiction writers, gave an insightful talk that focused on the artificial aspect of artificial intelligence. Walking us through numerous examples of how "brittle" machine learning algorithms at the heart of modern AI systems are, Halpern was able to pinpoint how these systems are not intelligent at all but carry all the biases of their makers (often unconscious ones). For example, facial recognition algorithms can have a hard time differentiating the faces of women of color, most likely because the "training data sets" the algorithms were taught were not representative of these human beings. But because these machines supposedly rely on data and "data don't lie," these systems get deployed into everything from making decisions about justice to making decisions about who gets insurance. And these are decisions that can have profound effects on people's lives.

Then there was the general trend of AI being deployed in the service of both surveillance capitalism and the surveillance state. In the former, your behavior is always being watched and used against you in terms of swaying your purchasing decisions in the latter, you are always being watched by those in power. Yikes!

Study: White and black children biased toward lighter skin

(CNN) -- A white child looks at a picture of a black child and says she's bad because she's black. A black child says a white child is ugly because he's white. A white child says a black child is dumb because she has dark skin.

This isn't a schoolyard fight that takes a racial turn, not a vestige of the "Jim Crow" South these are American schoolchildren in 2010.

Nearly 60 years after American schools were desegregated by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, and more than a year after the election of the country's first black president, white children have an overwhelming white bias, and black children also have a bias toward white, according to a new study commissioned by CNN.

Renowned child psychologist and University of Chicago professor Margaret Beale Spencer, a leading researcher in the field of child development, was hired as a consultant by CNN. She designed the pilot study and used a team of three psychologists to implement it: two testers to execute the study and a statistician to help analyze the results.

Her team tested 133 children from schools that met very specific economic and demographic requirements. In total, eight schools participated: four in the greater New York City area and four in Georgia.

In each school, the psychologists tested children from two age groups: 4 to 5 and 9 to 10.

Since this is a pilot study and not a fully funded scientific study, the sample size and race selection were limited. But according to Spencer, it was satisfactory to yield conclusive results. A pilot study is normally the first step in creating a larger scientific study and often speaks to overall trends that require more research.

Spencer's test aimed to re-create the landmark Doll Test from the 1940s. Those tests, conducted by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark, were designed to measure how segregation affected African-American children.

The Clarks asked black children to choose between a white doll and -- because at the time, no brown dolls were available -- a white doll painted brown. They asked black children a series of questions and found they overwhelmingly preferred white over brown. The study and its conclusions were used in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which led to the desegregation of American schools.

In the new study, Spencer's researchers asked the younger children a series of questions and had them answer by pointing to one of five cartoon pictures that varied in skin color from light to dark. The older children were asked the same questions using the same cartoon pictures, and were then asked a series of questions about a color bar chart that showed light to dark skin tones.

The tests showed that white children, as a whole, responded with a high rate of what researchers call "white bias," identifying the color of their own skin with positive attributes and darker skin with negative attributes. Spencer said even black children, as a whole, have some bias toward whiteness, but far less than white children.

"All kids on the one hand are exposed to the stereotypes" she said. "What's really significant here is that white children are learning or maintaining those stereotypes much more strongly than the African-American children. Therefore, the white youngsters are even more stereotypic in their responses concerning attitudes, beliefs and attitudes and preferences than the African-American children."

Spencer says this may be happening because "parents of color in particular had the extra burden of helping to function as an interpretative wedge for their children. Parents have to reframe what children experience . and the fact that white children and families don't have to engage in that level of parenting, I think, does suggest a level of entitlement. You can spend more time on spelling, math and reading, because you don't have that extra task of basically reframing messages that children get from society."

Spencer was also surprised that children's ideas about race, for the most part, don't evolve as they get older. The study showed that children's ideas about race change little from age 5 to age 10.

"The fact that there were no differences between younger children, who are very spontaneous because of where they are developmentally, versus older children, who are more thoughtful, given where they are in their thinking, I was a little surprised that we did not find differences."

Spencer said the study points to major trends but is not the definitive word on children and race. It does lead her to conclude that even in 2010, "we are still living in a society where dark things are devalued and white things are valued."

CNN's Jill Billante and Chuck Hadad contributed to this report.

Watch Anderson Cooper 360° weeknights 8pm ET. For the latest from AC360° click here.

3. Shared and nonshared environmental variance

The purpose of this section is to consider some conceptual details of the distinction between shared and nonshared environment before discussing sources of nonshared environment. These details include other labels for shared and nonshared environment, the distinction between environmental components of behavioral variance and the relationship between specific environmental measures and behavior, the impact of nonshared environmental influence on the development of singletons, genotype-environment correlation and interaction, and model-fitting.

3.1. Other labels

Shared and nonshared environmental influences were named by Rowe and Plomin in 1981, although the distinction between environmental influences that contribute to the resemblance between relatives and those that do not has been implicit in quantitative genetics since its inception. Many labels have been used to refer to these two components of environmental variance. Shared environmental influence has been called E2, between-family, and common environmental variance, labels that have been used to refer to nonshared environmental include El, within-family, individual, unique and specific environmental variance. Rowe and Plomin suggested that the symbols El and E231 are probably best in that they carry no connotations, although they have the distinct disadvantage that they provide no mnemonic to remember which is which. Within- and between-family environment are the terms most often used. They are useful for those familiar with the terminology of analysis of variance which considers variance within and between groups. Variance within families refers to differences among family members and variance between families describes resemblance among family members. The term “within-family” environment, however, connotes factors that occur within the confines of the family whereas nonshared influences are those that cause family members to differ regardless of whether the locus of influence is the family (such as differential treatment by parents) or outside the family (such as different experiences at school or with peers). For these reasons, we suggest that the most descriptive and straightforward terms to use are shared and nonshared.

3.2. Components of variance versus specific measures

It should be noted that this discussion pertains to environmental components of behavioral variance, not to the relationship between specific environmental measures and behavioral measures. In this sense, quantitative genetic analyses describe the 𠇋ottom line” of genetic and environmental influence. That is, the total impact of genetic variability on phenotypic variability will be detected regardless of the complexity of the genetic effects - for example, whether the genetic effects arise from variability in structural genes that code for polypeptides or from regulatory genes. Similarly, quantitative genetics estimates the bottom line of environmental influence, regardless of the specific mechanisms by which environmental factors affect behavior. Although this components of variance approach may be unsatisfying for those who would like to know which specific genes and which specific environmental factors are responsible for the components of variance, it seems to be a reasonable first step to ask about components of variance - without this tack, we would not have discovered that nearly all environmental variance is of the nonshared variety. It is a major strength of the approach that it can reveal the presence of genetic and environmental influences even when these are not assessed directly.

Attempts to isolate specific environmental factors will be presented later. A related issue, however, should be mentioned at this time. Traditional environmental research attempts to relate measures of family environment to measures of behavior of one child per family. The yield from such research has been disappointing, especially if one considers the amount of variance explained32. Knowing this research, one might ask why such environmental factors as parental affection should be important within families when they account for little variance in behavior across families. That is, if it makes little difference that some parents love their children more than other parents love their children, why should parental love make a difference within families if a parent loves one child more than another? The answer is that there is no necessary relationship between the causes of differences between families and the causes of differences within families. That is, environmental factors that create differences within families can act independently of factors that cause differences between families. For example, a child really knows only his own parents the child does not know if his parents love him more or less than other parents love their children. A child is likely to be painfully aware, however, that parental affection toward him is less than toward his sibling.

3.3. Singletons

Because over 80% of U.S. families have more than one child, it is important to understand why children in a family are so different from one another. How does nonshared environment relate to singletons? In general, reasons why two children in the same family differ are likely to yield clues as to the environmental source of variance for singletons as well. The easiest example involves nonsystematic events such as accidents and illnesses which are just as likely to befall singletons. However, systematic nonshared influences may also be found to affect singleton variance. For example, if certain characteristics of peer groups differ within pairs of siblings and contribute importantly to behavioral differences within sibling pairs, it is likely that these characteristics also contribute to variance for singletons.

Obviously, singletons do not have siblings with whom they interact thus, this potential source of nonshared environment cannot contribute variance for singletons. Although it might seem at first that differential parental treatment of two children in the same family is irrelevant to singletons, it is possible that, once identified, such factors might contribute to the variance of singletons. There is evidence that parents with more than one child treat the children similarly if we look at the children at the same age, which suggests that parental treatment is not an important source of nonshared environment33. Except for twins, however, siblings are not the same age, and when we examine contemporaneous parental treatment of children of different ages, we find that parents treat the children differently34. Differences in parental behavior during development can also affect singletons in that parents will treat their singleton children differently during the course of development.

Thus, studies of differences within pairs of siblings are likely to illuminate factors responsible for singleton variance as well as sibling variance. The important point in the present context is the obvious one: that the study of singletons cannot isolate factors that make two children in the same family different from one another. Because this is the best clue we have as to the source of environmental variance relevant to psychological development, it makes sense to focus on environmental sources of differences between children in the same family.

3.4. Genotype-environment correlation and interaction

Two complicating factors in the estimation of quantitative genetic parameters are genotype-environment correlation and genotype-environment interaction35. Genotype-environment correlation refers to an increase in phenotypic variance that occurs when children experience environments correlated with their genetic propensities. Phenotypic variance can also be due to genotype-environment interaction when children respond differently to the same environment because of genetic differences among them. What are the effects of genotype-environment correlation and interaction on estimates of shared and nonshared environment? Consider a direct estimate of nonshared family environment: the extent to which the correlation for identical twins reared together is less than 1.0. This estimate will not include either genotype-environment correlation or interaction because identical twins are identical genetically thus, in terms of genetic propensities, identical twins will correlate and interact with the environment in a similar manner. Similarly, the direct estimate of shared family environment - the correlation for unrelated children reared together - will not include genotype-environment correlation or interaction because these children are genetically uncorrelated thus, in terms of their genetic propensities, they will correlate and interact with the environment in ways that do not add to their resemblance. However, estimates of nonshared or shared environment derived as the remainder of phenotypic variance after other components of variance are taken into account can be affected by genotype-environment correlation and interaction because of their effects on estimates of genetic variance35.

3.5. Model-fitting

Fitting models to adoption and twin data is a powerful way to estimate quantitative genetic parameters36. Although model-fitting techniques differ in their specifics, they all express family resemblance in terms of an underlying model consisting of several unobserved genetic and environmental parameters. The approach is powerful because it makes assumptions explicit, it tests a specific model, and it can incorporate into a single analysis different types of data, such as family and adoption data, rather than analyzing each type of data separately. Model-fitting procedures, however, only find significant parameters when they are implicit in the basic data: for example, in a study of adoptive siblings, a reasonable model-fitting analysis will estimate significant shared family environmental influences only if the correlation for adoptive siblings is significant. For this reason, and because of the relative inaccessibility of most models, we have emphasized the basic correlational data and merely note that model-fitting approaches confirm our conclusions.

Why do identical twins end up having such different lives?

B arbara Oliver has had an intriguing relationship with her identical twin sister, Christine, over the decades. Throughout their childhoods, they were effectively treated as two versions of the one person: they were dressed in exactly the same manner and were given the same hairstyles. "Our parents did everything to stress how similar we were," Barbara recalls.

But when Barbara and Christine reached adolescence in the 60s, the pattern changed. The girls could choose their own clothes and adopted very different fashions. "I wore short skirts. Christine had longer dresses and jackets," says Barbara. At the same time, differences in their personalities became more apparent. "Christine is more conscientious about what she does. I am more confident. That became increasingly obvious as the years went by," says Barbara.

Christine agrees. "I am more self-conscious and I suffer from serious depression. There is no sign of that in Barbara. We may be identical twins but we are very different in many ways."

Such a divergence might seem odd. After all, as identical twins, the pair have exactly the same genes. They are clones of each other. They also had an upbringing that accentuated their similarities. Nature and nurture would appear to have dealt them identical hands. Yet Barbara and Christine have ended up as dissimilar individuals.

Nor are they unusual, says Professor Tim Spector, head of twin research at King's College, London. Barbara and Christine, who enlisted with the college's twin studies unit several years ago, are like many identical twins. In some ways, they are very, very alike, in looks, for example. But in other ways, they are noticeably dissimilar – and that is far harder to explain. "We see it in so many different ways," says Spector. "For example, our research has shown that twins rarely die of the same disease. Yet they share many other features, such as height. It is not a straightforward business."

It sounds baffling. After all, identical twins have the same genes, share the same womb and usually experience the same childhoods. "Most of the twins recruited to our study went to the same school and lived together, eating the same food for the first 18 or so years of their lives," says Spector, whose pioneering study celebrates its 21st birthday next month. "But the outcomes of their lives are often very different indeed."

It is an intriguing discovery and it forms the core of a new awareness of the behaviour of genes and their interactions with the environment, one that may explain the baffling roots of human variation, though Spector, when he started his study, had slightly less ambitious goals. In the 1990s, he was studying the roots of common ailments such as cataracts and arthritis. At the time, doctors dismissed these conditions as the results of wear and tear on patients' bodies as they grew older. These ailments were just something that people had to put up with. "However, I wanted to know why some people got hit quite early and not others," says Spector.

And that is where his study of twins began. By comparing identical and fraternal twins and their sensitivities to illnesses, it is possible to separate the genetic roots of conditions from their environmental influences. So Spector began recruiting them for his research and set up his unit at St Thomas' hospital, London. He did so at a time when the first breakthroughs in modern genetics were taking place. In the late 80s and early 90s, researchers – using the tools of modern molecular biology – were starting to pinpoint single genes that were responsible for deadly but relatively uncommon inherited ailments such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington's disease and muscular dystrophy. The roots of widespread ailments such as heart disease and diabetes, although more complex and possibly involving up to a dozen genes, would soon follow, it was expected.

"Scientists would analyse genes and find a link between a group of them with a disease," says Spector. "Thousands of these gene studies were carried out but most of them were false because the researchers did not or could not replicate their results. This was an era of hype. If you got a negative result, you simply didn't publish it: 90% of publications turned out to be rubbish."

One such study involved Spector's twin research. Work with them suggested that the vitamin D receptor gene was the single genetic cause of osteoporosis. An error in one variant of the gene made people susceptible to the condition, it appeared. The story made the cover of Nature, every scientist's dream, except that in this case, as in many others, the claim proved to be wrong. "It was a false dawn," Spector says. "We were simply mistaken."

Then came the Human Genome Project, in which the entire 3bn units of DNA that make up an individual's set of genes were decoded. That sequencing technology and more rigorous replication has transformed the study of individual variation and the work of the twin studies group. "We have 7,000 individual twins – and therefore 3,500 pairs of siblings – on our books here. Of these, about half have had their entire genome sequenced," added Spector.

Every year, day-long measuring sessions are held for groups of twins and a host of different parameters are studied. Blood samples are taken, bone density is calculated, lung function is assessed, x-rays taken and full body scans carried out, along with series of psychometric tests. "We go to these events about once a year and they are really great fun. I get to spend all that time with my sister," says Christine.

But what was thrown up by these sessions and the research carried out on the twins left geneticists puzzled. Instead of finding a dozen or so genes for common conditions such as obesity, researchers found that hundreds were involved. "In the case of osteoporosis, which we once thought was caused by a single mutant gene, we now believe that there may be 500 genes involved – interacting to trigger the disease in people at different ages," says Spector.

"These are genes that individually only account for 0.1% of susceptibility for a condition. And even then, these genes, in total, only seem to account for a fraction of the variance we see in the prevalence and severity of these conditions in the population. This phenomenon has a name: it is called missing heritability."

It is an effect you can see directly from the studies of identical twins carried out at St Thomas'. "We now began to look not at the similarities between identical twins but the differences. It was a shift in perception really. Our work shows that the heritability of your age at death is only about 25%. Similarly, there is only a 30% chance that if one identical twin gets heart disease the other one will as well, while the figure for rheumatoid arthritis is only about 15%."

It is a baffling observation: individuals with identical genes and often very similar conditions of ubringing but who experience very different life outcomes. What could be the cause? The answer, says Spector, came to him in a Damascene moment four years ago. The causes of these differences were due to changes in the human epigenome, he realised.

"Essentially, epigenetics is the mechanism by which environmental changes alter the behaviour of our genes," he says. "This involves a process known as methylation, which occurs when a chemical known as methyl, which floats around the inside of our cells, attaches itself to our DNA. When it does so, it can inhibit or turn down the activity of a gene and block it from making a particular version of a protein in our bodies." Crucially, all sorts of life events can affect DNA methylation levels in our bodies: diet, illnesses, ageing, chemicals in the environment, smoking, drugs and medicines.

Thus epigenetic changes produce variation in disease patterns. And recent experiments carried out by Spector and his colleagues, in which they have looked at methylation levels in pairs of identical twins, back the theory. "We have studied identical twins who have different tolerances to pain and shown that they have different states of methylation. We have also produced similar results for depression, diabetes and breast cancer. In each case, we have found genes that are switched on in one twin and switched off in the other twin. This often determines whether or not they are likely to get a disease."

Epigenetic changes are not just simple environmental changes, however. They influence a person's genes and can have an effect that can last for two or three generations in extreme cases. For example, studies of the children and grandchildren of pregnant women who endured starvation in the second world war and in China in the 50s have revealed they tended to be smaller and more prone to diabetes and psychosis. These trends are put down to epigenetic changes.

"Essentially, they are a way to make short-term changes to a generation," says Spector. "A famine strikes but you cannot instantly alter your genes. But epigenetic changes allow you to produce children who are fatter or skinnier or whatever is best suited to the new circumstances. These changes will last for at least two or three generations, by which time you would hope the change in the environment will have passed. It may not, of course."

If nothing else, the idea of epigenetic changes explaining the variability in twin behaviour and illness strikes a chord with Christine. "The idea that I am different from my identical twin sister being due to life events makes sense. Barbara got married first. Many twins will tell you that when that happens the other twin is left grieving. That is how it felt to me. And later I suffered from leukaemia and I have also been divorced. That would leave a mark on anyone. Luck plays its part."

Identically Different: Why You Can Change Your Genes by Tim Spector is published in paperback by Phoenix

Implicit or Unconscious Bias

The term implicit bias was first coined back in 1995 by psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, where they argued that social behavior is largely influenced by unconscious associations and judgments (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995).

Specifically, implicit bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious way, making them difficult to control.

Since the mid-90s, psychologists have extensively researched implicit biases, revealing that, without even knowing it, we all possess our own implicit biases.

Table of contents

System 1 and System 2 Thinking

System 1 and System 2 Thinking

Kahneman (2011) distinguishes between two types of thinking: system 1 and system 2.

System 1 is the brain's fast, emotional, unconscious thinking mode. This type of thinking requires little effort, but it is often error prone. Most everyday activities (like driving, talking, cleaning, etc.) make heavy use of the type 1 system.

The type 2 system is slow, logical, effortful, conscious thought, where reason dominates.

Implicit Bias vs. Explicit Bias

Implicit Bias vs. Explicit Bias

Implicit bias (also called unconscious bias) refers to attitudes and beliefs that occur outside of our conscious awareness and control.

Implicit biases are an example of system 1 thinking, such that we are not even aware that they exist (Greenwald & Krieger, 2006).

An implicit bias may run counter to a person's conscious beliefs without them realizing it. For example, it is possible to express explicit liking of a certain social group or approval of a certain action, while simultaneously being biased against that group or action on an unconscious level.

Therefore, implicit biases and explicit biases might be different for the same person.

It is important to understand that implicit biases can become an explicit bias. This occurs when you become consciously aware of the prejudices and beliefs you possess. That is, they surface in your conscious mind, leading you to choose whether to act on or against them.

Explicit biases are biases we are aware of on a conscious level (for example, feeling threatened by another group and delivering hate speech as a result), and are an example of system 2 thinking

It is also possible that your implicit and explicit biases are different from your neighbor, friend, or even your family member. There are many factors that can control how such biases are developed.

What Are the Implications of Unconscious Bias?

What Are the Implications of Unconscious Bias?

Implicit biases become evident in many different domains of society. On an interpersonal level, they can manifest in simply daily interactions. This occurs when certain actions (or microaggressions) make others feel uncomfortable or aware of the specific prejudices you may hold against them.

Racial Stereotypes
Racial Stereotypes

This bias can manifest in small interpersonal interactions and has broader implications in the legal system and many other important sectors of society.

Examples may include holding an implicit stereotype that associates Black individuals as violent, and as a result, you may cross the street at night when you see a Black man walking in your direction, without even realizing why you are crossing the street.

The action taken here is an example of a microaggression. A microaggression is a subtle, automatic, and often nonverbal, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group (Pierce, 1970). Here, crossing the street communicates an implicit prejudice, even though you might not even be aware.

Another example of an implicit racial bias is if a Latino student is complimented by a teacher for speaking perfect English, but he is actually a native English speaker. Here, the teacher assumed that simply because he is Latino that English would not be his first language.

Gender Stereotypes
Gender Stereotypes

Gender biases are another common form of implicit bias. Gender biases are the ways in which we judge men and women based on traditional feminine and masculine assigned traits.

For example, a greater assignment of fame to male than female names (Banaji & Greenwald, 1995) reveals a subconscious bias that holds men at a higher level than their female counterpart. Whether you voice the opinion that men are more famous than women is independent of this implicit gender bias.

Another common implicit gender bias regards women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). In the school setting, girls are more likely to be associated with language over math, whereas males are more likely to be associated with math over language (Steffens & Jelenec, 2011), revealing clear gender-related implicit biases that can ultimately go so far as to dictate future career paths.

Even if you outwardly say men and women are equally good at math, it is possible you subconsciously associate math more strongly with men without even being aware of this association.

Health Care
Health Care

Healthcare is another setting where implicit biases are very present. Racial and ethnic minorities and women are subject to less accurate diagnoses, curtailed treatment options, less pain management, and worse clinical outcomes (Chapman, Kaatz, & Carnes, 2013).

Additionally, Black children are often not treated as children at all, or not given the same compassion or level of care that is provided for White children (Johnson et al., 2017).

It becomes very evident that implicit biases infiltrate the most common sectors of society, making it all the more important to begin to question how we can work to remove these biases.

LGBTQ+ Community Bias
LGBTQ+ Community Bias

Similar to implicit racial and gender biases, individuals may hold implicit biases against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Again, that does not necessarily mean that these opinions are voiced outwardly or even consciously recognized by the beholder for that matter.

Rather, these biases are unconscious. A really simple example could be asking a female friend is she has a boyfriend, assuming her sexuality and that heterosexuality is the norm or default.

Instead, in this specific situation, you could just ask your friend if she is seeing someone. There are several other forms of implicit biases that fall into categories ranging from weight to ethnicity to ability that come into play in our everyday lives.

Legal System
Legal System

Both law enforcement and the legal system shed light on implicit biases. An example of implicit biases functioning in law enforcement is the shooter bias – the tendency among the police to shoot Black civilians more often than White civilians, even when they are unarmed (Mekawi, & Bresin, 2015).

This bias has been repeatedly tested in the laboratory setting, revealing an implicit bias against Black individuals. Blacks are also arrested at disproportionally high rates, given harsher sentences, and Black juveniles are tried as adults more often than their White peers.

Black boys are also seen as less childlike, less innocent, more culpable, more responsible for their actions, and as being more appropriate targets for police violence (Goff, 2014).

Together, these unconscious stereotypes, which are not rooted in truth, form an array of implicit biases that are extremely dangerous and utterly unjust.


Implicit biases are also visible in the workplace. One experiment that tracked the success of White and Black job applicants found that stereotypically White received 50% more callbacks than the stereotypically Black names, regardless of the industry or occupation (Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2004).

This reveals another form of implicit bias: the hiring bias – Anglicized‐named applicants receiving more favorable pre‐interview impressions than other ethnic‐named applicants (Watson, Appiah, & Thornton, 2011).

Causes of Implicit Bias

Causes of Implicit Bias
We tend to seek out patterns

A key reason we develop such biases is that our brains have a natural tendency to look for patterns and associations in order to make sense of a very complicated world.

Research shows that even before kindergarten, children already use their group membership (e.g., racial group, gender group, age group, etc.) to guide inferences about the psychological and behavioral traits.

At such a young age, they have already begun to seek out patterns and recognize what distinguishes them from other groups (Baron, Dunham, Banaji, & Carey, 2014).

And not only do children recognize what sets them apart from other groups, they believe "what is similar to me is good, and what is different from me is bad” (Cameron, Alvarez, Ruble, & Fuligni, 2001).

Children aren’t just noticing how similar or dissimilar they are to others, but dissimilar people are actively disliked (Aboud, 1988).

Recognizing what sets you apart from others, and then forming negative opinions about those outgroups (a social group with which an individual does not identify) contributes to the development of implicit biases.

We like to take shortcuts

Another explanation is that the development of these biases is a result of the brain's tendency to try to simplify the world.

Mental shortcuts make it faster and easier for the brain to sort through all of the overwhelming data and stimuli we are met with every second of the day. And we take mental shortcuts all the time. Rules of thumb, educated guesses, and using “common sense” are all forms of mental shortcuts.

Implicit bias is a result of taking one of these cognitive shortcuts inaccurately (Rynders, 2019). As a result, we incorrectly rely on these unconscious stereotypes to provide guidance in a very complex world.

And especially when we are under high levels of stress we are more likely to rely on these biases than to examine all of the relevant, surrounding information (Wigboldus, Sherman, Franzese, & Knippenberg, 2004).

Social and Cultural influences

Influences from media, culture, and your individual upbringing can also contribute to the rise of implicit associations that people form about the members of social outgroups. Media has become increasingly accessible, and while that has many benefits, it can also lead to implicit biases.

The way TV portrays individuals, or the language journal articles use, can ingrain specific biases in our mind.

For example, they can lead us to associate Black people as criminals or females as nurses or teachers. The way you are raised can also play a huge role. One research study found that parental racial attitudes can influence children’s implicit prejudice (Sinclair, Dunn, & Lowery, 2005).

Implicit Attitude Test (IAT)

Implicit Attitude Test (IAT)

What sets implicit biases apart from other forms of biases is the fact that they are subconscious – we don’t know if we have them.

However, researchers have developed a tool, called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) that can help reveal such biases.

The IAT requires participants to categorize negative and positive words together with either images or words (Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz, 1998). Tests are taken online and must be performed as quickly as possible, the faster you categorize certain words or faces of a category, the stronger the bias you hold about that category.

For example, the Race IAT requires participants to categorizing White faces and Black faces and negative and positive words. The relative speed of association of black faces with negative words is used as an indication of the level of anti-black bias.

Professor Brian Nosek and colleagues tested more than 700,000 subjects and found that more than 70% of White subjects more easily associated White faces with positive words and Black faces with negative words, concluding that this was evidence of implicit racial bias (Nosek, Greenwald, & Banaji, 2007).

Outside of lab testing, it is very difficult to know if we do, in fact, possess these biases. The fact that they are so hard to detect is in the very nature of this form of bias, making them very dangerous in various real world settings.

How to Reduce Implicit Bias

How to Reduce Implicit Bias

Because of the harmful nature of implicit biases, it is critical to examine how we can begin to remove them.


Practicing mindfulness is one potential way, as it serves to reduce the stress and cognitive load that otherwise leads to relying on such biases. A 2016 study found that brief mediation decreased unconscious bias against black people and elderly people (Lueke & Gibson, 2016), providing initial insight into the usefulness of this approach and paving the way for future research on this intervention.

Adjust your perspective
Adjust your perspective

Another method is perspective taking – looking beyond your own point of view, so that you can consider how someone else may think or feel about something.

Researcher Belinda Gutierrez implemented a videogame called “Fair Play” in which players assume the role of a Black graduate student named Jamal Davis. As Jamal, players experience subtle race bias while completing “quests” to obtain a science degree.

Gutierrez hypothesized that participants who were randomly assigned to play the game would have greater empathy for Jamal and lower implicit race bias than participants randomized to read narrative text (not perspective taking) describing Jamal's experience (Gutierrez, 2014), and her hypothesis was supported, illustrating the benefits of perspective taking in increasing empathy towards outgroup members.


Specific implicit bias training has been incorporated in different educational and law enforcement settings. Research has found that diversity training to overcome biases against women in STEM improved with men (Jackson, Hillard, & Schneider, 2014).

Training programs designed to target and help overcome implicit biases may also be beneficial with police officers (Plant & Peruche, 2005), but there is not enough conclusive evidence to completely support this claim. One pitfall of such training is a potential rebound effect.

By actively trying to inhibit stereotyping actually results in the bias eventually increasing more so than if it had not been initially suppressed in the first place (Macrae, Bodenhausen, Milne, & Jetten, 1994). This is very similar to the white bear problem that is discussed in many psychology curricula.

This concept refers to the psychological process whereby deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface (Wegner & Schneider, 2003).


Education is crucial. Understanding what implicit biases are, how they can arise, how, and how to recognize them in yourself and others are all incredibly important in working towards overcoming such biases.

Learning about other cultures or outgroups and what language and behaviors may come off as offensive are critical as well. Education is a powerful tool that can extend beyond the classroom, through books, media, and conversations. On the bright side, implicit biases in the United States have been improving.

From 2007 to 2016, implicit biases have changed towards neutrality for sexual orientation, race, and skin-tone attitudes (Charlesworth & Banaji, 2019), demonstrating that it is possible to overcome these biases.

Books for further reading
  1. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See Think and Do by Jennifer Eberhardt
  2. Blindspot by Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji
  3. Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law by Justin Levinson and Robert Smith
About the Author

Charlotte Ruhl is a member of the Class of 2022 at Harvard University. She studies Psychology with a minor in African American Studies. On campus, Charlotte works at an implicit social cognition research lab, is an editor for the undergraduate law review, and plays softball.

When bias turns into bullying

We all have our biases — but just because bias is a universal part of the human experience doesn’t mean it is something we should ever dismiss offhandedly, either in ourselves or others. That’s because bias has serious consequences, and when left unchecked, it can turn into bullying. A 2012 study of California middle and high school students published in the American Journal of Public Health found that 75 percent of all bullying originated from some type of bias against a person’s race, sexual orientation, religion, disability or other personal characteristic.

People often talk about bullying in general terms. But as Anneliese Singh, a professor of counseling and associate dean for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the University of Georgia, points out, “If you look more closely at ‘general bullying,’ what you’ll see is a lot of bias-based bullying.”

SeriaShia Chatters-Smith, an assistant professor of counselor education and coordinator of the clinical mental health counseling in schools and communities program at the Pennsylvania State University, defines bias-based bullying as bullying that is specifically based on an individual’s identifying characteristics, such as race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or weight. For example, adolescents might create Snapchat stories that attack someone on the basis of their race, weight or sexual orientation, and parents or teachers might treat children differently on the basis of their skin color, notes Chatters-Smith, an ACA member who presented on “Bullying Among Diverse Populations” at the ACA 2017 Conference & Expo in San Francisco. Research indicates that individuals of color, particularly black and Hispanic men, are more likely to be identified as being aggressive, she adds.

In her research on transgender people, Singh, who co-founded the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition and founded the Trans Resilience Project, has found that bias-based bullying can be based on appearance, gender expression or gender identity, and it can range from name-calling to physical and sexual harassment and assault.

When people start talking about someone having a bias, those four letters typically trigger a negative reaction and shut down conversation, which isn’t productive. Thus, Chatters-Smith argues that helping people understand that everyone has biases is crucial to addressing bias-based bullying.

However, this task can be difficult because people often resist closely exploring their own prejudices. Counselors should help clients realize that just because everyone has biases doesn’t mean they are excused from recognizing and addressing their own, Chatters-Smith argues.

Because bias is often an emotionally charged topic, Chatters-Smith finds it helpful to start with a nonthreatening example. After pointing out bias, she asks clients when they first identified something as their favorite color. Most people can’t remember when this color preference started because they were young, Chatters-Smith says. She explains how after someone establishes a color preference, the brain starts to sort things by that color.

“When you see something that is your favorite color, you are more likely to gravitate toward it. You have more positive feelings toward cars that are your favorite color. … And sometimes a car may not be the best-looking car, but because it’s our favorite color, we gravitate toward it. That is bias,” Chatters-Smith explains.

Bias is a kind of sorting process that our brain goes through, she continues. “The experiences that we have with individuals can then cause us to have specific attitudes toward someone, and when we see them, we prejudge that they are going to act or be a certain way because of those experiences. … We do an automatic sort.”

Counselors are not immune to bias either. For example, a counselor might assume that a black male client who is unemployed did something to cause his unemployment, Chatters-Smith says. If this happens, the counselor needs to take a step back and ask why he or she is entertaining that assumption, she continues.

These internalized biases can also have a direct effect on students. For example, Singh says, LGBTQ students will not feel safe reporting bias-based bullying by their peers when they hear educators or school counselors expressing anti-queer or anti-trans views. Educators can also hold bias against students in special education, which may limit the opportunities those students have to learn, she adds.

Singh, an American Counseling Association member and licensed professional clinical counselor in Georgia, finds cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helpful because challenging irrational thoughts is at the heart of addressing bias-based bullying. Thus, counselors need to ask clients and themselves some CBT-related questions: Where did you learn this thought? What research supports this idea?

Counselors “have to become strong advocates in order to interrupt those beliefs systems because the person enacting them — whether or not they’re conscious [of it] — isn’t going to stop until there’s an advocacy intervention,” Singh says.

After making clients (or educators) aware of bias, counselors can work with them to figure out times that they might have sorted a person into a category before getting to know that person and then brainstorm ways to manage that differently in the future.

Counselors can also benefit from bias-based bullying training. In working with Stand for State, a bystander intervention program at Penn State, Chatters-Smith found that certain questions or situations related to bias would cause the counselors participating in the bias-based education to pause or stumble. “A person who is not educated to know [how to respond] can get really thrown off guard,” she says.

Chatters-Smith knows from experience. Once in a workshop, she mentioned how saying that all Jewish people are good with money is an example of a racially charged joke. One of the participants responded, “But all Jewish people are good with money.”

Chatters-Smith questioned this statement by asking, “Really? All Jewish people? Where does this stereotype come from? Is this a racially based stereotype that is meant in a negative way?”

“One of the most damaging things that can happen in [a] workshop is if a bias educator is perpetuating bias,” Chatters-Smith contends. This experience helped her realize that the trainers themselves needed training to be effective at bias and discrimination education. She is currently developing workshops and a workbook that will allow counselors to practice answering questions and go through specific scenarios related to bias-based bullying to help them gain confidence and knowledge in handling these challenging situations.

A counselor’s role is to interrupt the systems of bias-based bullying, Singh argues. This process starts with the intake assessment, which should clearly define what bias-based bullying is and provide examples, she continues.

Counselors need to ask upfront questions about bias and harassment in counseling to let clients know that these issues exist and that they affect mental health, Chatters-Smith says. The best way to know if it is happening is to ask, she adds.

Of course, when assessing clients, counselors can also be alert to signs that bias-based bullying may be occurring. Anxiety or fear of being bullied may cause younger children to wet their beds at certain times of the year (right before school starts, for example) or to avoid public bathrooms, Chatters-Smith notes. She advises school counselors to pay close attention to the dynamics between students in the cafeteria. “A child can be sitting at a table full of kids because they don’t want to sit alone, but no one is interacting with them. No one is talking to them. They’re purposely being excluded,” she says.

Singh and Chatters-Smith also urge counselors to watch for signs of depression or anxiety, client withdrawal, client complaints that are not tied to anything specific, chronic tardiness, or changes in client behavior such as nervousness, avoiding school or sessions, or missing certain classes.

Counselors should exercise the same level of vigilance with young adult and adult clients. Chatters-Smith finds that counselors often fail to factor in the isolation, feeling of being ostracized and lack of belonging that some minority college students experience at predominantly white institutions. Counselors “know all of [these factors] impact mental health from [the] K-12 research of bullying but seem to forget about it when people graduate from high school,” she argues.

In addition, counselors often “do not factor in the cultural pieces of experiencing bias-based bullying at work. It manifests itself differently,” Chatters-Smith says. For example, individuals may go on short-term or long-term disability, or bullying may result in harassment claims or absenteeism from work. In certain instances, clients may not be able to put a finger on the core issue causing them not to enjoy the workplace, or they find that for some unknown reason, they can’t please a co-worker or employer, she says.

Sometimes, clients don’t even recognize that bias-based bullying could be an issue until the counselor brings it up, Chatters-Smith adds. Thus, she advises counselors to ask questions such as “Have you experienced any prejudice or discrimination at work?” or “Do you have increased anxiety around yearly evaluations for work?”

“In any organization that has built-in hierarchies, bullying [is likely] to occur,” Chatters-Smith says. For example, in the military, transgender individuals still face discrimination, and often discrimination is based on race or socioeconomic status, such as enlisted individuals versus officers who require a college education and receive more money and leadership positions, she explains.

When people are introduced to the concept of bias-based bullying, they often assume that it involves someone from a dominant group bullying someone from an oppressed group. “When you think about bias-based bullying, typically people are going to gravitate toward majority [versus] minority … but at the same time, it can happen within group,” points out Cassandra Storlie, an assistant professor of counselor education and supervision at Kent State University. She cautions counselors not to overlook the possibility of intracultural bullying because it does happen. For example, a Latino child may bully another Latino child because that child doesn’t speak Spanish, or an individual may bully someone else of the same ethnicity because that person’s skin color is judged to be “too dark” or “too light.”

Just because someone is oppressed does not mean that they can’t be oppressing others, Chatters-Smith emphasizes. “For centuries … African Americans have bullied each other based on darker complexion versus lighter complexion, and the same thing happens in Latino and Hispanic groups as well,” she says. “What makes it identity based and bias based is because there are biases that come along with the perspectives of individuals who are of darker skin. Even though it’s within a specific racial category, the bias is still there, and then the individual still has the psychological impact because they’re being bullied just for who they are.”

In addition, although people of color have a higher likelihood of being bullied in predominantly white settings, bias-based bullying can still occur when they are in settings with higher diversity, Chatters-Smith notes. The bias may just take another form and be based on characteristics other than race, such as sexual orientation, she explains.

Within transgender communities, someone who is more binary identified and operates with certain gender stereotypes may discriminate against another transgender person for not looking enough like a woman or a man, says Singh, a past president of both the Southern Association for Counselor Education and Supervision and the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling. Within-group bullying is particularly painful to the individuals who experience it because the group is supposed to be their source of support and belonging, she says.

Singh also points out that bias-based bullying can be targeted at anyone based on how he or she is perceived. “If they’re perceived to step out of a gender or sexual orientation box, even if they don’t have that identity, they may experience [bias-based bullying].” In fact, Singh says, a substantial amount of anti-queer and anti-trans bullying is actually experienced by cisgender and straight people.

Creating a positive, safe environment

“Ethnic identities are strong protective factors,” says Storlie, president-elect of the North Central Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. She encourages counselors to find ways to celebrate cultures and differences. If counselors are practicing in a school district or community that isn’t taking preventative measures against bias-based bullying and being inclusive and advocating for all students, then they need to take initiative and educate those communities, Storlie says.

One approach that Storlie, an ACA member and a licensed professional counselor with supervisory designation in Ohio, suggests is to mention how diverse populations are increasing. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of white students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools decreased to less than 50 percent in 2014, while minority students (black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaska Native and those of two or more races) made up at least 75 percent of the total enrollment in approximately 30 percent of these schools.

Storlie works with a school district that has Ohio’s second-highest number of students who speak English as a second language. Roughly 50 percent of the student body is Latino — up from approximately 2 percent only two decades ago.

When Storlie first walked into the school district, she couldn’t find any Spanish on the walls of the schools or in school materials, but since she started working with the educators and teachers, all of the school district’s documents are translated. “If you’re handing this information out to students … you’ve got to make sure it’s in the right language,” she argues.

Schools are in transition now because of increased diversity, Storlie notes. “It’s happening across the country where teachers don’t look like the kids that they’re teaching anymore, and they have stereotypes that can be pervasive,” she observes. Thus, counselors need to work with educators and communities to ensure that they are being inclusive.

Storlie advises counselors to facilitate events such as English classes for parents whose first language is not English to improve communication between teachers and parents, and workshops to educate parents, school personnel and the community on bias-based bullying. Counselors might also provide workshops for school personnel on multicultural competency, she says.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Welcoming Schools program is one helpful resource, Chatters-Smith says. The program provides training and resources such as recommended books, lesson plans and videos to school educators to help them create inclusive, supportive school environments and aid them in preventing bias-based bullying.

Building strong relationships

Storlie has found that teachers and school personnel who instill hope in their students — regardless of any identifying characteristic — have the best outcomes. These students often have higher levels of school engagement, demonstrate greater resilience and enjoy more academic success.

The therapeutic relationship can play a central role in instilling hope and achieving these positive outcomes, Storlie argues. For that reason, she adds, counselors shouldn’t become so focused on theories and techniques that they forget what it means to foster a good relationship with their clients. Among individuals who have been oppressed or marginalized, there is often an “us versus them” attitude, so the challenge for counselors is finding a way to reconnect and develop the relationship, Storlie says.

Trust is one key component of building a strong relationship with clients. However, Chatters-Smith has found that adults don’t always trust children’s reports of bias and discrimination. In her private practice, Chatters-Smith often works with children of color who report that no one believes them when they complain about bias-based bullying. Over time, this disbelief can result in their silence. Thus, she emphasizes, it is crucial that counselors believe children when they report having experienced bias-based bullying and discrimination.

In addition, Storlie stresses the importance of taking a team approach to bias-based bullying. “You can’t do it solo. … You really have to have the team approach because that’s how change happens,” she says. This is especially true for school counselors confronted with high student-to-counselor ratios, she adds.

When school counselors notice bias-based bullying in their schools, they should connect with other leaders in the school district and position themselves as a part of the leadership team, Storlie advises. Then, in this leadership position, counselors can educate school personnel on warning signs and interventions for bias-based bullying, thereby creating a team approach to intervening, she explains.

School counselors should also strive to work with families to address bias-based bullying. Because family members’ work schedules may not coincide with school system hours, counselors might have to get creative to find ways to reach families, Storlie continues. “School counselors who stay in their offices are not going to be able to reach families the same way that … [counselors] doing outreach with families would,” she adds.

In Storlie’s work with undocumented Latino youth, she found that the school counselors who were present, who made a point of getting out of their offices and who were visible to parents — for example, showing up at basketball games after school hours — enjoyed the most effective relationships with families and students. Their students were also more receptive to looking ahead and thinking about their future careers, she adds.

Bystander intervention

“What hurts [children] typically is not specifically the bullying itself. What hurts them is the other children around who stand and watch it happen,” Chatters-Smith asserts. The inaction and silence of bystanders causes people who are bullied to feel depressed and isolated, and it feeds into dysfunctional thinking that they are not good enough and no one cares about them, she adds.

In workshops, Chatters-Smith uses an active witnessing program to train people how to respond to discrimination and bias. Because bias-based bullying is often verbal, onlookers can state that they disagree with what is being said and question the validity of the biased comment, she elaborates. Bystanders can also support the person being bullied by telling them they are not alone or calling for help, she says.

Bystanders can also help people who commit the offense to self-reflect by asking them to repeat what they said and letting them know that it was hurtful, Chatters-Smith continues. If a bystander doesn’t feel safe to intervene at the time of the incident, they can later call a manager (if the bullying incident happened in an establishment or organization) or notify someone about what they witnessed, she advises.

Chatters-Smith has also used ABC’s What Would You Do? — a hidden-camera TV program that acts out scenes of conflict to see if bystanders intervene — in her workshops. She plays the scenarios from the show but not the bystanders’ reactions. Instead, she has workshop participants use the skills they have learned in the workshop to see how they would respond.

The more aware counselors become of bias, prejudice and discrimination in their day-to-day lives, the more it will affect them in their work with clients, Chatters-Smith says. “Practice is what helps us move forward as individuals,” she explains. “When you are at the store, when you are eating in a restaurant, when you are in the mall, when you see these things happening, if you feel [like you] know what to do, you’ll become more aware of what it is and you’ll feel more confident at not only being able to intervene and be empowered in your everyday life but also being able to talk to your clients about their experiences.”

Storlie and Singh both tout training student leaders as an effective approach to preventing bias-based bullying. Often, students — not counselors — are the ones who hear about or witness these instances of bullying. So, counselors can work with these student leader groups to teach them how to intervene, Storlie says.

Another way to create a team approach to bias-based bullying intervention is through the use of popular opinion leaders, Singh says. With this approach, school counselors and teachers nominate student leaders who represent different groups in the school (à la The Breakfast Club). With the counselor’s guidance, these students discuss bias-based bullying, what they’ve noticed and how they might be able to change it. Then, after learning bias-based bullying interventions, the popular opinion leaders try them out and report on which ones worked and which ones didn’t, Singh explains.

Singh warns of the danger of minimalizing bias-based bullying — such as saying that people “don’t mean it” — because it sends a message that it is OK to have bias. Comments that dismiss bias-based bullying “can really add up over time in the form of microaggressions for transgender people,” she argues. “But, more importantly, [these comments create] a hostile environment in society, and that hostile environment in society can set transgender people up for experiencing violence.”

“When children grow up in an environment where they are taught implicit and explicit messages about whose identities matter and whose don’t, and then there’s power attached to that, then you’re going to see those negative health outcomes,” Singh argues. “And they’re not just negative health outcomes and disparities. They’re verbal, physical and sexual harassment that play out across people’s bodies and communities. Those microaggressions add up to macroaggressions on a larger scale.”

Apologizing isn’t the answer either. Often, people who bully, commit a microaggression or say something prejudiced will apologize by saying that they didn’t intend it that way, Chatters-Smith says. “It’s not intent that matters. It’s impact. … Whether or not you intended it, it doesn’t matter. It hurt the person.”

One possible solution is to start bias education at a young age so that over the life span, people are more aware of bias-based bullying and discrimination, Singh says. Counselors can challenge the internalized stereotypes that people learn in society about themselves and others and counter those biased messages with real-life experiences and compassion, she adds.

Education and awareness are key because bias-based bullying is an ongoing issue. “[Bias] is not going to go away. … People are going to find a way to treat each other differently. I think that what will change is more and more people not accepting it,” Chatters-Smith says.

This past spring, social media revealed another case of discrimination when two black men who were waiting for a friend were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia on suspicion of trespassing. The incident might have received little notice except that a white woman posted a video of the arrest on Twitter and challenged the injustice, which prompted protests. Starbucks responded by apologizing and announcing that it would close thousands of stores for an afternoon to conduct racial bias training in May.

Even though this injustice never should have occurred, the public outcry sent a message that these two men were not alone and that bias is not acceptable, Chatters-Smith says. “The intervention is what’s going to change [things],” she says. “If we have more eyes on it, hopefully we can reduce the impact and reduce the duration and the longevity of the impact of these instances.”

Chatters-Smith, Singh and Storlie all agree that counselors have an important role to play in educating people about bias and building strong partnerships between educators, parents, students and communities. “[Counselors] are in the business of helping people challenge inaccurate, internalized thoughts,” Singh points out. “Counselors have to challenge those thoughts and help rebuild beliefs systems that include the value of a wide variety of social identities.”

Lindsey Phillips is a contributing writer to Counseling Today and a UX content strategist living in Northern Virginia. Contact her at consulting@lindܾ or through her website at

Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.

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