Sunday, March 20, 2016

Biases in going along to get along

Of late, I have been reflecting on work issues that have to do with people from different parts of the world in their acts of relating to each other. As is to be expected in human affairs, some of these relations work better than others. But as is experienced of such trans-national, trans-cultural affairs, humans struggle to make connect of amiable kind without developing commonality of interests.
I turned to some base fundamental research on perception to understand the issue. Specifically, I was drawn to a research titled The Neural Substrates of In-Group Bias : A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation, (2008) Jay J. Van Bavel, Dominic J. Packer, and William A. Cunningham, The Ohio State University.  

Let me quote their abstract before presenting my propositions, thereof. “Classic minimal-group studies found that people arbitrarily assigned to a novel group quickly display a range of perceptual, affective, and behavioral in-group biases. We randomly assigned participants to a mixed-race team and used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify brain regions involved in processing novel in-group and out-group members independently of pre-existing attitudes, stereotypes, or familiarity. Whereas previous research on intergroup perception found amygdala activity—typically interpreted as negativity—in response to stigmatized social groups, we found greater activity in the amygdala, fusiform gyri, orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), and dorsal striatum when participants viewed novel in-group faces than when they viewed novel out-group faces. Moreover, activity in orbitofrontal cortex mediated the in-group bias in self-reported liking for the faces. These in-group biases in neural activity were not moderated by race or by whether participants explicitly attended to team membership or race, a finding suggesting that they may occur automatically. This study helps clarify the role of neural substrates involved in perceptual and affective in-group biases.”

The news from this research is that in-group biases happen involuntarily or automatically, and that in-group members are processed in greater depth than outgroup members. In-group biases in perception is therefore highly motivated. Contexts of economic, psychological and evolutionary significance were salient triggers for such motivation. Why I lean a bit on this body of work is because of neural correlates to perception in evidence.
Participants with a stronger preference for in-group members exhibited stronger OFC activity in response to in-group relative to outgroup members.”  “…this is the first fMRI study to identify the neural mediators of self-reported intergroup biases, and it demonstrates an important link between the pervasive preference for novel in-group members and brain regions that process reward and subjective value. In-group biases in neural activity did not require explicit attention to team membership. Although the tasks differed in difficulty (judging by the faster reaction times and higher accuracy in the implicit task), neural in-group biases did not differ across tasks. This finding suggests that these biases are relatively automatic.”

Hence, there is considerable implication in the way we participate, inter-relate or coordinate activities in a group. This is pertinent to learning and development because, of two basic processes. Firstly, we tend to categorize perceptions. Secondly, learning results in encoded memory.

While the Table below is a long-shot from automaticity of perception, I lay it out here in relation to language in developmental work in groups and organizations.

Value Precept
Socialized Attitude
Philosophy of Practice
Social Contract
Common Greater Good
Epistemology from Virtue

While the above table is an oversimplified first shot at propositional reasoning in group dynamic anchors, it also aims at provoking newer linkages between reality and abstraction.

Here again, I have two explorations. Firstly, that Terminal Values (a la Rokeach) are possibly the domain of automatic perception. Shareable attitudes in society get socialized through overt behaviors that are observed (even from facial cues) and thereafter role modeled. Treatment of experiences finds reflected meta-states of higher-order learning. These relate to superior use of the pre-frontal cortex, that tap into perceptual bases as also pertinent memory chained through categories of perceptual triggers. This chain of mentifacts become strings of belief systems as coherent distinct philosophies.

Secondly, social psychology has been processed rather superficially in professional education. Application of behavioural sciences may miss the link between competing values riddled with in-group attentional biases on the one hand, and fearful amygdala responses of threat or novelty, when known comforts – even if material or economic – numb our choices. So, virtues are impoverished further when philosophic thought is discouraged in the shorter-order comfort of predictability.

Alright, I am warned of your own attention span while reading what is here. What’s your reflection anyway?