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Our Idiot Brain | #MyFridayStory No. 26

Our Idiot Brain | #MyFridayStory No. 26

I am fascinated by how fickle our brain is.

Through a passion for all things marketing, I have been down a few rabbit-holes in the search for new and interesting findings. I check discussions on the latest marketing trends, follow all the leading gurus, and stay relevant through always being in ‘learn mode.’ Apart from the obvious areas such as advertising, design and social media trends, interest in areas such as architecture, interior design and retail have crept in. But by far my biggest distraction so far has been my interest in neuroscience. Including behavioural economics, psychology, neuroplasticity, mental illnesses and a few others.

It didn’t start out that way.

I am interested in what makes people do things. I am especially intrigued in what makes people do things that they otherwise wouldn’t do. The first time I encountered this ‘condition’ – called unconscious bias or implicit bias – it troubled me. It scared me that I can think, say or do something without consciously wanting to. And there is compelling proof that most of us have these biases – whether we want them or not.

In Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Caldini explains how to use persuasion and influence to make people say yes. It explores how our prejudices and beliefs dupe us into doing things we shouldn’t do, and not doing things we should.

Idiot Brain – What your Head is Really Up To by Dean Burnett delves into how flawed our brain is at certain tasks. The brain isn’t neat and tidy like a computer, but rather it’s messy and disorganised. From forgetting someone’s name when you remember their face, to how conspiracy theories gain traction, our brain is quite fallible.

Nudge – Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard B. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein was written in 2008 and received rave reviews for the authors. In 2017 Thaler was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his contribution to behavioural economics. It’s a big deal for economics. He proves how ‘nudging,’ for example, by making subtle changes and nuances to an application form, people will make better decisions about their healthcare, eating habits, education and financial well-being. This is obviously a nudge in the right direction.

What about getting nudged in the wrong direction?

I’ve been nudged in the wrong direction. As a white South African male, born in the 60s, my prejudice cup runneth over. As hard as I try not to, I harbour a sense of superiority over women and non-whites. I’m sure those aren’t the only ones, but these two irk me the most. With all my heart, I wish any memory that has caused me to unconsciously think like that, can be wiped out. Because I know that’s not how I feel in principle. In fact, exactly the opposite. I am on a quest to reverse the negative effects of that unconscious imprinting on my brain.

And the quest has brought me here.

I suggest that deep down inside us all – male, female, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, black or white, South African, American or Chinese – (I could go on, but you get the idea) – inside us all, is the desire to be treated like an equal. No-one likes being treated unfairly. And that we have been treating women and folk of a different colour to us like this for so long, isn’t ok and isn’t a reason not to stop right now.

Our idiot brain can nudge us to think and act irrationally. That doesn’t excuse us from taking control. Taking control of our unconscious biases means we have to first make them conscious. A conscious bias can be acknowledged and addressed. And addressing any negative biases we have towards folks different to us, is a great start to ending discrimination in all its forms.

[If you would like to check if you have any implicit biases, Harvard Business School has this great test https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html]

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