In today’s polarized political and cultural climate, it’s easy to be overcome by your biases. No matter how tolerant you think you are, or how much you want to believe that you see the world rationally, it’s likely that you’re affected by implicit biases that change how you perceive the world.
The good news is, with a little extra effort, you can overcome these biases, and live a healthier, more welcoming life.
The Nature of In-Group Bias
In-group bias, or in-group favoritism, is the tendency to favor members of a group you belong to. That group may involve your race, your heritage, your political party, your occupation, your age, your gender, or any number of other factors. It’s what’s largely responsible for racial tension and (typically negative) stereotypes, and it’s been a driving factor in the increasing political polarization in the United States over the past several years.
In-group bias may lead you to falsely believe that your race is superior to others—even if you don’t explicitly claim to believe this. This bias can show up in how you judge other people, whether you choose to hire them, and how you interact with them. It can also lead you to dislike or avoid certain populations entirely; for example, you might detest members of another political party, and make false assumptions about the nature of their beliefs.
The Challenges of Modern Society
While our modern technology has given us untold advantages and communicative potential, it’s also heightened the effects of in-group bias in a few key ways:
Media cascades. There are millions of publication outlets, constantly churning out stories. When news breaks, it’s easy for that story to cascade down to more biased, less comprehensive journalists. And because people tend to seek out information that already aligns with their beliefs, they’re almost constantly subjected to only one side of the argument.
Social media echo chambers. It doesn’t help that our social media feeds intentionally pin us into echo chambers. We unfollow or unfriend people we don’t agree with, and upvote news we do agree with. Eventually, we’re pigeonholed into close-minded communities that only reinforce our own biases against out-groups.
Digital interactions. Online interactions tend to make us less patient, less forgiving, and less tolerant. Getting into an argument with someone on Facebook about a news article is like yelling at another driver who cuts you off in traffic; you have difficulty imagining the other person as a human being, so you’re tempted to imagine them as a one-dimensional caricature. It only takes a handful of these interactions before you label everyone within a certain group as being unreasonable, rude, or otherwise less-than.
How to Overcome In-Group Bias
So what can you do to overcome your in-group biases, and potentially help others overcome theirs?
Have more face-to-face conversations. First, have more face-to-face conversations, preferably with people you don’t historically align with. For example, on Coffee with a Cop day, police officers all over the country visit local cafes and have open, honest conversations with the people in their communities. It’s much easier to be forgiving and accepting when you see someone in the flesh, so always prioritize in-person conversation over digital conversation.
Acknowledge your biases. Perhaps the best thing you can do is admit that you have biases, and be okay with that. Too many people are afraid to admit they’re biased, either because they see bias as inherently evil or because they aren’t comfortable having faults. But you can’t get better at something unless you admit you’re imperfect at it—and you can’t overcome your biases unless you acknowledge that they’re there.
Read from a wide variety of sources. Break out of your media echo chamber by reading many different news sources—and preferably including both truly neutral sources, and news sources that are trusted by other ideological groups. You’ll probably discover perspectives and viewpoints you didn’t even know existed.
Go out of your way to connect with people different than you. Whether it’s at a coffee shop, a meetup, or in your own neighborhood, try to have more conversations with people who look, act, believe, and work differently than you do. You’d be surprised how willing people are to have a friendly chat. Even small talk can help you get comfortable around people who are different than you and eliminate your biases, one step at a time.
Look for contradicting evidence. Thanks to confirmation bias, it’s easy to find evidence that supports your preexisting assumptions. For example, if you believe that homeless people are inherently dangerous, it won’t surprise you to read about a homeless person who assaults a passerby. If you find yourself being drawn to an assumption like this, go out of your way to find contradictory evidence—whether that’s searching for uplifting stories of homeless people doing good deeds, or talking to homeless people on your way home from work.
There’s no quick answer to overcoming in-group favoritism, but as long as you’re willing to acknowledge your biases and imperfections, and you keep working to compensate for them, eventually, you’ll be able to break those barriers down. We’re all human beings trying our best, and it’s in nobody’s best interest to write off another group based solely on their group identity.