5 Unfortunate Biases Hard Coded into Your DNA

#2. The Poor Are Objects

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When you pass homeless people on the street, there is a good chance you look away, or check your watch, or play dead to avoid having to speak to them. Sometimes you might give that person money, but you would be hard-pressed to recall anything about their appearance once you walked away. That's because science has proven that you care about that homeless person even less than you could've ever imagined.

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Normally when you look at a person, the part of your brain that controls empathy lights up. This helps you recognize that person's face and relate to what they are saying or doing, allowing you to interact with them as another human being because that is what people who aren't sociopaths do. However, when you look at inanimate objects, that area of the brain stays dormant, since there is no need to empathize with a book or a refrigerator or the first season DVD set of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A recent study conducted by researchers at Duke and Princeton universities found that the brains of participants looking at images of homeless people also didn't light up at all.

When looking at pictures of better-off men and women, the empathy part of the participant's brain lit up like the Fourth of July, but stayed as dark as a tomb for the homeless. Which means that, to them, homeless people were essentially the same as tables. Dirty tables.

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"Ugh, just toss it some quarters and maybe it'll go away."

#1. Your Group Is Best

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Many of you have probably spent most of this article thinking that none of this applies to you, because your best friend is fat, you spend all your weekends volunteering at the soup kitchen, and you've never even seen Deep Space Nine. But none of that matters, because it is ridiculously easy to make you (and everyone else) biased about virtually anything. All you need to do is be put in a group for literally any reason at all, and you will automatically believe your group is superior to all others.

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"I'm just glad I fit into this entry instead of the earlier ones. What a bunch of assholes."

Simply telling people they are now in either Group 1 or Group 2 is enough to get them thinking about how much better their group is. You never actually need to meet the other members in your group; as long as you know you are in one, and that other people are in different groups, you will immediately start showing bias toward your group, even if that bias is causing you some immediately quantifiable detriment (such as getting banned from a PlayStation vs. Xbox message board or getting punched in the face during Trivia Night at Buffalo Wild Wings).

An obvious example of this is sports. On paper, it seems ridiculous that people would devote so much time and money to a bunch of strangers playing a game they have absolutely nothing invested in and no possible way of affecting the outcome. Yet people will tattoo their bodies, end friendships, destroy relationships, and even start freaking riots just to prove their team (or "group") is better than everyone else's. The groups don't even stay the same -- team rosters change, sometimes on a yearly basis. People aren't devoted to the people in the group, but to the idea of the group itself, and they will attack you (verbally or physically) for even daring to wear the shirt of a different group in their presence.

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Everyone recognizes that this is crazy, right?

This is how malleable the human brain is. This is why we have been in a seemingly constant state of war for our entire existence. All you need to know is that there is an "us" and a "them" and you will automatically start doing whatever you can to make sure the "us" comes out on top.

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Kathy Benjamin

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