In order for us to be able to move beyond our own biases and be able to apply critical thinking skills to our evaluations of individuals, we must first be able to recognize and address our own biases. If we can recognize our own biases, we can then identify the questions we must ask that inform us about the true individual..




How We See Ourselves and Others

From: SGBA e-Learning Resources Written by Barbara Clow, Yvonne Hanson & Jennifer Bernier

We saw in definitions on the previous page that stereotypes are pictures of people we form in our minds based on some outward characteristic, and that a bias is an opinion we form or have about that person based on the stereotype. Are our stereotypes and biases wrong? Are they right? When our brains take that mental shortcut to a stereotype, does this represent the entire person? Can we recognize when there might be more to an individual than what is readily visible and apparent?

Often the best way to learn is to do, so let's try an activity...

Look in the mirror and describe yourself, thinking about the categories of diversity listed in the table below. Compare yourself to the image in the category and decide if you are similar or different from the person or idea represented in that image.

 Activity 1


Category of Diversity


Think about how you relate to the categories of diversity below

How We See Others


Are you similar or different from the person or idea represented in the image?

Questions to Consider


Roll over the word "Questions" below to reveal some further questions to consider for each picture




























Sexual Orientation








Family Structure










Activity Discussion

This exercise helps us see that there are all different kinds of diversity in the world and that people are diverse in different ways. There are some things we have in common with one group of people and not another. There are some things that make us different from one group of people and not another. This exercise also demonstrates the effects of stereotypes and bias, in which we form an impression of an individual based one or a very few obvious characteristics. 

You may have found it difficult to answer the question "Is this person like me or different?" The point of this question is that we don't ever know enough about another person just by looking at them to recognize the points of similarity and difference between them and ourselves. For example, we might be heterosexual, but also married like the couple in picture 8, but why should we assume that the two men in picture 8 are a couple, or married, or even homosexual? There are many cultures in which this display of closeness between men has nothing to do with sexual orientation. We might not be Chinese, but we might have been married in a wedding dress or suit that looks just much the one in picture 3. Then again, what makes us so anthropologically discriminating to be able to identify this couple as Chinese - might they be Korean, Vietimese, or even Americans of mixed Asian descent? We might not have Down's syndrome, but we might have a job and an income that allows us to dress well for work, as does the young man in picture 11.

 What this exercise also demonstrates is the power of first impressions - we look, we stereotype based on some characteristic, then form a bias based on that stereotype. In the next section of this lesson we will learn more about this.

Activity 2

Here is another related activity.....

Think about the following behaviors that you might observe and/or experience when meeting or socializing with others. How might you react to or interpret these behaviors? What might these behaviors mean to someone from a culture other than your own? After you think about your possible reaction to the behaviors below, roll over each behavior with your cursor to reveal some other meanings.

Using incorrect grammar

Paying the bill for dinner at a restaurant

Asking questions about someone's mother and father

Burping loudly after a meal

Shaking hands when you meet someone

Arriving late for an appointment, class or meeting

Crossing a heart when making a promise

Holding hands in public with someone of the same sex

Repeating the same story




We react to behaviors based on our own cultural norms; and in fact, seldom recognize that there may be other cultural norms, or that they are as valid as our own. Our own culture, and how we were raised within that culture - the things we are taught to respect as acceptable behavior - also contribute to our biases. People who behave like we do are the same as us and are therefore good, while people who do not behave as we do are different and may not be good. Sociologists call this in-group and out-group bias. This is a very old social phenomenon, and is a survival instinct that is most likely biological and hard-wired into our brains. Those with the same characteristics and behaviors as us are part of our in-group and are safe, while those with different characteristics and behaviors are part of an out-group and are not safe. For many years American children were taught the concept of "Stranger Danger" to protect children from people who might hurt them, despite the overwhelming evidence that children were most often hurt by someone close.

In the previous activity we learned that characteristics create a first impression (stereotype) that can bias our mental picture of the entire individual; and now in this activity, we have learned that behaviors also create a first impression that can bias our mental picture of an individual. In the next section of this lesson we will learn a bit about how powerful these first impressions can be.








Before we move on, let's see how well we understand the material on this page.....................

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