14/07/08

We often think of bias and prejudice as rooted in ignorance. But as psychologist Paul Bloom seeks to show, prejudice is often natural, rational … even moral. The key, says Bloom, is to understand how our own biases work — so we can take control when they go wrong.

 

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Glossary

  • prejudice – preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience
  • bias – prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair
  • go awry = go wrong
  • affiliation = connection
  • sway – control, power
  • adolescent – (of a young person) in the process of developing from a child into an adult
  • bogus – not genuine or true; fake
  • impartial – treating all rivals or disputants equally; fair and just
  • presupposition = assumption

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Think about it

Answer the questions below. Pause at times indicated in brackets.

  • What do we commonly think about prejudice? What does Paul Bloom set forth to do in his talk? (0:51)
  • In what way might stereotypes be beneficial to us? (2:03)
  • In what way is bias reflected in our attitudes towards “them”? (3:52)
  • Summarise the experiment Tajfel conducted on British adolescents. (6:08)
  • Why did people think that Obama is less American than Tony Blair? (8:16)
  • What is one way of combating our prejudices and biases? (10:41)
  • Summarise what Adam Smith says about a thousand deaths versus your little finger. (13:25)
  • What is Paul Bloom’s conclusion about human reason?

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Practice makes perfect

Fill in the blank spaces with the missing words. Use ONE word per blank space.

You look ________ me, you know my name, you know certain facts about me, and you could make certain judgments. You could make guesses about my ethnicity, my political affiliation, my religious beliefs. And ________ thing is, these judgments tend to be accurate. We’re very good ________ this sort of thing. And we’re very good at this sort of thing because our ability to stereotype people is not some ________ of arbitrary quirk of the mind, but rather it’s a specific instance of _______ more general process, which is that we have experience with things and people in the world that fall ________ categories, and we can use our experience to make generalizations about novel instances of these categories. So everybody here has a lot of experience ________ chairs and apples and dogs, and based on this, you could see unfamiliar examples and you could guess, you could sit on the chair, you could eat the apple, the dog will bark. Now we might be wrong. The chair could collapse ________ you sit on it, the apple might be poison, the dog might not bark, and in fact, this is my dog Tessie, ________ doesn’t bark. But for ________ most part, we’re good at this. For the most part, we make good guesses both in the social domain and the non-social domain, and if we ________ [not] able to do so, if we weren’t able to make guesses about new instances that we encounter, we ________ [not] survive.

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Explore it more

TED Talk // Paul Bloom: The Origins of Pleasure

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