Sadly, it is human nature to be biased or prejudiced against those who are different from us. No matter how “evolved” we think we are, there will always be a subconscious reaction to the things that separate us from those around us and vice versa.
The belief that “opposites attract” is absolutely true. As humans, we are attracted to the new, unique, and novel. Our curiosity is aroused when we encounter something that is different from what we are familiar with. We have to explore it, study it, and find out as much as we can about it. The human brain has an innate desire to broaden our horizons and understandings.
Knowing that, it seems odd that we would feel bias or prejudice toward something that is different or new, right?
Well, it’s all about how our brains process new information. One new piece of information, we can absorb it no problem. Ten to twenty, sure! But when our brains are overloaded with new information, it can be too much all at once for us to handle. This triggers feelings of fear and distress—the primal instinct that protects us from danger.
When we are introduced to someone or something that is “too different” from what we know, it can bring on those feelings of fear and anxiety. The human response is aggression or avoidance of anything that causes those feelings. Thus, we are instinctively biased against the new or different because it makes us afraid.
Prejudice is defined as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience”, while the definition of bias is “prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.”
Notice how prejudice is “not based on reason or actual experience”? It’s just our brains responding to an overwhelming amount of new information that it isn’t equipped to handle. When we see someone of a different color, facial structure, sexual or gender identity, or hair color or hear an idea that is too far outside our normal way of thinking, our innate reaction is fear, disgust, and avoidance or rejection.
Understanding this is the key to overcoming bias and prejudice. Once we realize that bias is OUR fault—the fault of our brains being overloaded, really—it puts things into perspective. It’s on us to help our brain adapt to the new information (however long it takes) so that we can once again experience the wonder and joy of exploring the unknown.