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Subtle Bias

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Subtle Bias as a Social Construct In America
May 28, 2012

An understanding of the subtle bias that affects our society is a form of humanistic deception. Although the norms in America appear to be uniform; we will see that biases are influenced by various social factors such as stereotype, prejudice, discrimination, and labeling including the Attribution Theory. This paper will compare and contrast scientific literature to gain more insight into the subtlety of this social construct. I am seeking not to understand the reason why we as social beings are bias, but to simply show that this distorted truth exist.

Subtle Bias as a Social Construct In America
My theory of unconscious bias along with the self-affirmation process that accompanies it clouds our worldview in our present society. We all do it no matter how accepting we appear to be or even claim to be. Irrational thoughts are usually based on a worldview that illustrates our interpretation of the world we live in (Wilson, 2001). This worldview is a set of assumptions and beliefs that we hold on to that guide our behavior. It helps us to make sense out of our lives. It determines what we think about human nature, causes of emotional issues, and where bias comes from (Entwistle, 2004).
There is always some form of discriminatory behavior or covert prejudice prevailing within our essence. Unfortunately, there is a strong manipulative force who affects the relationship between self and our cognitive decisions which fosters the quality of our everyday life. It must be remembered that not all aspects of society affect us to the same degree; but some affect some subcultures more than it does others.
Multiculturalism in America involves issues of discrimination, race, labels, assimilation and its citizen’s reactions to these cultural influences. These diversity issues overlap with Americans’ inherent longing for individuality and its promised expectation of freedom and happiness. Both historical and psychological required readings in colleges validate, confront, prove, and otherwise challenge this “right to pursue happiness attitude” definition of Americans – the American dream (Wyle, 2004, pp. 426-429). Hence, facilitates the dynamic of subtle bias.
Let us first get a working definition of what is meant by bias, stereotype, prejudice, discrimination, and labeling. The attribution theory will be further defined to highlight its conceptual framework. A bias is thus a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive processes, often occurring as a result of holding onto one's preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information (Wirth, 1945). Stereotyping is used to reduce our anxiety about uncertainty. In order to ease our discomfort, we define others as belonging to a group about which we have definite ideas which are probably not accurate (Burke, 1966). Prejudice is defined as “an attitude toward members of specific groups that directly or indirectly suggest that they deserve an inferior social status” (Glick & Hilt, 2000, p. 243). Discrimination is defined as a group or individual that is denied equal treatment because of an attribute (Barnes, 1997). Labeling is language that is colored that focuses our attention on a single aspect of a person that allows us to perceive others through the labels we use to describe them vs. interacting with them in their wholeness (Burke, 1966).
Discrimination, stereotyping, and bias generate exclusions, marginalization, and the process of totalization among groups of people and wrap a blanket of inclusion, false security and an entitlement opportunity for others. According to Vasquez (2001), this has been a long-term concern within our society which we have attempted to curve through the use of various laws as well as social service programs. A good example is the “Boys and Girls Club” which focuses on at-risk inner city youth with their development of recreation and education programs. In addition, the creation of affirmative action laws which sought to inflict checks and balances on our unconscious stereotyping are now abolished. The most commonly used and often debated cognitive bias that affects our decision-making is role fulfillment (Barnes, 1997). This bias becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy because the group that it manipulates actually conforms to the decision making expectations that others have of the members in that group thus explaining the Attribution Theory.
Literature Review
According to Sommers & Ellsworth (2001), “when race is a key issue social expectations are elicited and jurors heed popular egalitarian ideals. ‘Yet when the race card is not played, whites are more susceptible to making prejudiced decisions” (p. 12).
Let’s explore the meaning of this in context to the present discrimination and bias toward women in prison. Some of the most misunderstood, neglected and invisible people in America are the more than one million women in jail and prison (Covington, 2002). The increased incarceration of women appears to be the outcome of forces that have shaped Americans’ crime policy that does not include women. Most women in the criminal justice system today are poor, not educated, and unskilled and disproportionately women of color. Many come from impoverished urban environments and were raised by single mothers or in foster care as a child (Covington, 2002). Women are more likely than men to have committed crimes to obtain money to purchase drugs though (Covington, 2002). Although it is widely assumed, based on bias, that female addicts typically engage in prostitution as a way to support their drug habits; it is more common for them to commit property crimes (Covington, 2002).
In a parole decision-making research study, participants were presented with information about different prisoners. The facts about the prisoners’ crimes were fixed and their names were changed to vary their ethnicity. Bodenhausen (2005) manipulated the motives for their crimes also. For example, if a prisoner had been incarcerated for robbing a store, a situational explanation might be that he did so because he did not have the money to purchase medicine for his pregnant wife (Bodenhausen, 2005). Such information might reflect the likelihood of a lesser sentence for the prisoner and possibly influence the parole decisions. By activating an ethnic stereotype, it significantly influenced parole decisions in this study (Bodenhausen, 2005). Parole decisions for non-descript prisoners were influenced by the explanation of the motive. In contrast, the very same explanation did not influence parole decisions for Latino prisoners. When the participants were asked to recall details of a case, the participants’ recollection of the motive was also influenced by their stereotype of the prisoner’s ethnicity.
Results from this study show that stereotypes can affect both the judgment and memory of decision makers (Appendix 1). It seems that the effects of bias on who has earned the right to parole (top panel) and the proportion of participants who recalled situational explanations for the prisoner’s behavior (bottom panel) can influence the impact of bias in the criminal justice system (Bodenhausen, 2005).
Let us examine bias in the treatment of a person with a mental disorder in our society. There is no compact definition for a mental disability as applied to this disabled culture (Braithwaite, 1994). This word describes a broad range of symptoms that may fit into various intersecting categories (Yarhouse, Butman & McRay, 2005). A mental disorder usually involves deviant behavior indicating that the thoughts and actions displayed are considered socially inappropriate. It also infers having a disability because the person living with a mental disorder may be unable to attain her goals, have difficulty handling daily living routines, or not be able to hold a job or communicate clearly (Braithwaite, 1994).
Bias and labeling coincide in its relationship to the stigma associated with having a mental illness (Personal Communication, 2012). Important to the understanding of a mental disorder is our ability to grasp the meaning of the living principle of stigma and its sarcastic and deteriorating effects (NAMI, 2012). The ancient meaning of stigma is “a mark burned into the skin of a criminal or slave” (Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary, p. 1139). The mentally ill person may find himself stigmatized in several ways. He is most likely to feel this sting for having a mental disorder, for being “crazy”, for not having a job; for living as homeless; or for being incarcerated. Being mentally ill in our society is an ingredient of an epidemic– an epidemic of unfair treatment, fear, and a great example of subtle bias.
A research article on scientific racism clearly outlines our societal dilemma with subtle bias (Sue, 1999). The study was hypothesized on the premise that black people did not access mental health services or utilize medical services due to limited research using people of color. Thus having to measure and manipulate behavior, thoughts, and emotions is very difficult without using the selective enforcement criteria that is needed for effective research (Pyrczak, 2008). The researcher states that internal/external validity is not both as important. Sue (1999) further states that it is not necessary for a study to clearly establish the connection between the independent variable and the dependent variable because of these ethnic limitations and exclusion. It is known that validity is a component of research and of course will have extraneous variables (Pyrczak, 2008). These must be consistently controlled in order to be valid. In addition, external validity demands more checks because they generalize results (Pyrczak, 2008).Imagine that an outdated study method to ensure inclusion for all is even being considered here in lieu of ethical and effective research. What is the purpose of reporting research findings if some outside factor caused the effect?
Sue (1999) also asserts that college samples are not generalizable or even representative of students. This appears to be bias as though minorities do not attend college. Does race really matter when a study is researched about on-campus binge drinking? It is still a problem. Drinking is the issue. Sue (1999) concludes that it is the meaning of ethnicity and not ethnicity per se that should be understood in research. It is the difference between being raised Colored, Negro, Afro-American and now African American. It does matter!

It must be acknowledged that the scientific method can be used as a way of seeking knowledge and truth because it describes and explains why behaviors transpire. It also endeavors to initiate continued research that may be used to forecast, foresee, and possibly transform human behavior. The authority of the scientific method is not discovered in its capacity to identify truth, but rather in its skill in identifying error (Jackson, 2009). This involves the ability to rule out an erroneous theory or hypothesis and thus provide an arena where truth may be ascertained. If the truth does exist, the scientific method is that directive towards finding that truth.
In conclusion, psychologists study biases as they relate to memory, reasoning, and decision-making to effect a change in our behavior and attitude. Empirical studies also find that a person often over-estimates how many other people act the same as he does – a bias towards social projection (Barnes, 1997). We have shown that our persistence in reducing bias does not change the number of people who violate this norm also. It seems that social projection leaves aggregate conformity unaltered. By studying the psychology of bias and the framework of social constructs, we may thus develop a future research design to better predict how individual biases affect aggregate behavior.
Research has shown that decision complexity and individual mood states both can affect the likelihood of bias albeit how subtle. Also, Bodenhausen’s (2005) research shows that an individual’s energy level during different parts of the day can affect the likelihood of stereotyping. Contemplate “early birds” being less biased in the morning and “night owls” being less biased in the evening (Bodenhausen, 2005).
Finally, how can we avoid subtle biases? Given that the decision –making process involves making an informed decision; we must define what the criteria is for being an informed citizen? Future research must challenge the implicit nature of the biases that stem from our inherent deception of thought. We, as decision makers, are often not conscious of our biases. The first step in combating biases requires an awareness of the dangers they pose in the decision-making process which involves the reeducation of the American people. The motivation of the American people must be increased to foster consideration of its members from biased groups and an instilled desire for accuracy that allows us as a society to move beyond the simplistic, subtle use of biases. It is imperative that bias reduction strategies continue to be studied in order to create homes, organizations, businesses, and an American society free of bias, stereotyping, prejudice, discrimination, and labeling.

Barnes, S. (1997). Practicing what you preach: An analysis of racial attitudes of two Christian churches. Western Journal of Black Studies, 21, 1-12. Bodenhausen. G. (2005). The role of stereotypes in decision-making processes. Medical Decision Making, 25 (1), 112-118.
Burke, K. (1966). Language as symbolic action. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Covington, S. (2002). A Woman’s Journey Home: Challenges for the Female Offenders. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Entwistle, D. (2004). Integrative approaches to psychology and Christianity. Eugene,
OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.
Glick, P. & Hilt, L. (2000). Combative children to ambivalent adults: The development of gender prejudice. In Eckes, T. & Hanns, M. (2000). The developmental social psychology of gender. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Press.
Jackson, S. (2009). Research methods and statistics. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage
NAMI (2012). Stigma News. Retrieved April 26, 2012 from http://www.namicalifornia,org.
Pyrczak, F. (2008). Evaluating research in academic journals. Glendale, CA: Pyrczak
Sommers, S. & Ellsworth, P. (2001). Study results show white jurors still demonstrate racial bias. Monitor on Psychology. Vol. 32, No. 3.
Sue, S. (1999). Science, ethnicity, and bias: Where have we gone wrong? American

Psychologist, 52, (12) 1070-1077.

Vasquez, M. (2001). Advancing the study of Chicana/o psychology. The Counseling
Psychologist, 29(1), 118-127.
Wilson, S. D. (2001). Hurt people hurt people: Hope and healing for yourself and your relationships. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers.
Yarhouse, M., Butman, R., & McRay, B. (2005). Modern psychopathologies: A comprehensive Christian appraisal. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity.
Wirth, L. (1945). The problem of minority groups. In Linton, R. (Ed.). The science of man.
New York: Columbia University Press.
Wyle, S. (2004). Revisiting America: Readings in Race, Culture, and Conflict. New Jersey:
Prentice Hall.

Appendix 1
Table 1
Stereotypical worldview that affects both the judgment and memory related to cognitive decisions.

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