Stop This Stereotype Madness

Jane Perdue

Have we lost our minds?


As business men and women, we've worked long and hard to stamp out obvious bias in the workplace. Then, along comes a ridiculous (just my opinion!) Wharton School study, and suddenly guys are lining up to get a buzz cut to capitalize on a newly-minted stereotype—bald fellows are better leaders. Say what?!


Three-hundred and forty-four study participants were shown two photos of the same man—one featuring him with hair, the other without. In no less than three separate tests, subjects found the men with shaved heads to be more masculine, dominant, taller, stronger, and to have greater leadership potential than the fellas with hair. That's quite a list of powerful conclusions... all derived from just looking at a picture of a bald man. This kind of mental-programming silliness has to stop.


Research by neuroscientist Joseph E. LeDoux shows that stimuli we encounter goes immediately to two places in the brain: the cerebral cortex and the amygdala. Unfortunately, the amygdala, the pre-verbal emotional part of our brain, reacts first and signals whether we like or dislike the stimuli based on experience. So, before the cerebral cortex can even consciously think about what we’ve come upon, our brain has already categorized the situation or object.


Given our natural inclination to prefer the known over the unknown, we accept what the amygdala says, allowing ourselves to become prisoners of one point of view, rationalizing our decisions based on previously assigned values and beliefs. So now, when we see a bald male, we can deduce he's a superior leader... and not know a single other thing about him!


Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. —Psychology Today


The good news is that we can choose to activate our cerebral cortex and not to fall victim to this nonsense. We can proactively opt to discard such rubbish that perpetuates old—and builds new—unconscious biases. What say you?