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Strategies for Changing Biased Mindsets: Leveraging Neuroscience for Diversity and Equity in the Workplace

Updated: Mar 4

The quest for diversity and equity in organizations is a pressing challenge in today's globalized world. While policies and procedures are crucial, the transformation of biases at the mindset level is fundamental to fostering an inclusive culture. Neuroscience and neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life—offer powerful insights into changing these biases. 

Understanding Bias Through Neuroscience

Biases, including unconscious or implicit biases, are deeply rooted in the neural pathways of our brains. These biases are the brain's way of simplifying information processing, developed through personal experiences, societal norms, and cultural background. Neuroscience has shown that our brains can categorize people and objects using minimal information, leading to stereotyping and prejudice without our conscious awareness. Our brains process bias in two ways:

  1. Gravitation Towards Sameness or Likeness (Likeness Bias or Homophily Bias): Our brains unconsciously categorize people as "like me" or "not like me" in under a second, and in fact, in under 120 milliseconds, based on race, age, and gender. This process is rooted in the reptilian brain's function to keep us safe from harm, associating "sameness" with safety and "difference" with potential danger.

  2. Categorization and Treatment Based on Data Intake: Our brains categorize people based on the information we gather through our senses and then treat people based on these categorizations. This emphasizes the importance of being mindful of the messages and meanings we absorb from our environment, media, and society, as they can be filled with biases and inaccuracies.

The Role of Neuroplasticity

The concept of neuroplasticity is central to modifying biased mindsets. It suggests that the brain is not fixed but rather malleable, capable of change throughout an individual's life. This plasticity allows for the retraining of our brains to weaken existing biased neural connections and forge new, unbiased ones. Engaging in deliberate, sustained practices can significantly alter how we perceive and interact with others, paving the way for more inclusive behaviors and attitudes.

Strategies for Changing a Biased Mindset - The Common Way

  • Awareness and Education: Recognizing and understanding biases is the first step. Neuroscience-based training can illustrate how biases are a natural part of the brain's operation, motivating individuals to change.

  • Mindfulness and Reflection: Practices like mindfulness and reflective journaling can decrease bias by increasing awareness of our thoughts and feelings, enabling conscious responses over biased reactions.

  • Diverse Experiences and Exposure: Facilitating diverse team assignments and cultural competency training can help break down stereotypes by forming new, positive neural associations through repeated interactions with different backgrounds.

  • Feedback and Accountability: Systems of feedback and regular check-ins reinforce unbiased behavior, with technologies like virtual reality offering immersive experiences that confront biases in impactful ways.

Implementing The PEPE© Model - The New Way

The PEPE© Model, a neuroscience-based approach developed by Tibisay Vera and endorsed by the Academy of Neuroscience and Education (ANE), aims to enhance adaptation, engagement, and wellbeing amidst change. The PEPE model, focusing on reduced perception of pain, reducing energy, error signals, and the peak and valley of hormones, offers practical strategies facilitate adaptation for any changes. Here we use this model to explore strategies you can use to cultivate an unbiased mindset. One way is to foster a growth mindset to shift attitudes and behaviors, offering a scientific foundation for modifying biases. Here we explore how to apply that:

  • Reduced Perception of Pain: Pain, whether physical or psychological, is interpreted and perceived in the brain, which aims to reduce it. By adopting a growth mindset, we can alter our perception of pain. Being open to new viewpoints, feedback, and ideas, and leveraging diversity within groups fosters an objective and adaptable mindset, minimizing biases. This approach not only helps in reducing the influence of pain but also acknowledges that even positive changes can be perceived as painful due to one's mindset.

  • Reducing Energy: hange, uncertainty, and complexity can drain it significantly. To foster a growth mindset with minimal energy expenditure, planning micro-habits is essential to avoid resistance. Behavioral nudges for fostering a growth mindset could include setting daily reminders to reflect on what you learned, even from failures, or prompts to seek feedback on tasks. An exact example might be scheduling a brief, end-of-day review to identify one thing you improved on and one area for future growth, encouraging a continuous learning cycle without overwhelming effort.

  • Error Signals: Change increase the conflict between expectations and actual results. Utilizing feedback tools and simulations can help individuals recognize and correct biases in real-time.

  • Peak and Valley of Hormones: Understanding the role of neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and cortisol is crucial. Strategies that promote positive feedback, well-being, social connections, and stress reduction can support the emotional and cognitive flexibility needed for changing biases.

The Path Forward

Embracing neuroplasticity and these neuroscience insights offers a hopeful path for transforming biases fundamentally. By understanding the brain's adaptability, organizations can foster inclusivity and equity through continued awareness, education, mindfulness, and diverse experiences. The PEPE model further supports this by providing practical, science-backed strategies for mindset change. This holistic approach emphasizes the need for ongoing effort and commitment to transform biases and create spaces where diversity and equity are realized.

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