Brain scans on movie watchers reveal how we judge people

Unconscious bias has become a hot topic recently, with high profile incidents reported around the world. Researchers at Aalto University are exploring the causes of these biases in our neural wiring, and are developing techniques using MRI scanners that let us see the brain making assumptions in real time. The results show for the first time that the brain is not only unconsciously biased towards people based on appearance, but it also forms biases based on what we know about the person as well.

Peoples’ brains are naturally biased towards other people who are the same as them — a behavioural trait scientists call ‘in-group favouritism’. The opposite trait is also true: people are often naturally biased against people who are not the same as them, called ‘out-group derogation’. Mamdooh Afdile — a filmmaker studying for a PhD in neuroscience at Aalto University — decided to use cinema to explore this.

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Children can ‘catch’ social bias through nonverbal signals expressed by adults

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Most conscientious adults tend to avoid making biased or discriminatory comments in the presence of children.

But new research from the University of Washington suggests that preschool-aged children can learn bias even through nonverbal signals displayed by adults, such as a condescending tone of voice or a disapproving look.

Published Dec. 21 in the journal Psychological Science, the research found that children can “catch” social bias by seeing negative signals expressed by adults and are likely to generalize that learned bias to others.

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