Those Who are Willing Can "Break the Prejudice Habit"For almost twenty-five years, Patricia Devine, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been investigating how people with implicit and/or explicit prejudices can overcome those prejudices by applying values of fair-mindedness to their evaluations of and responses to others.
The key, as in just about any situation in which learning is involved, is that the individual must want to change. A person motivated to learn to act without prejudice will feel guilty when s/he behaves otherwise. This guilt is the person's cue to make a conscious effort to improve. The good news from Devine's research is that such conscious efforts pay off.
[Prejudice] is the legacy of our socialization experiences. We all learn these stereotypes and have these biases at the ready whether we condone them or not, whether we think they are good or not, and as a result the immediate reaction is a biased one. If you are going to respond in nonbiased ways, you have to gain control or override the automatically activated stereotypic response and instead respond in these thoughtful deliberate ways that might represent your personal values.In Devine's view, overcoming prejudice is akin to breaking a bad habit:
"[Eliminating prejudice] is a process. Making that decision is the first step, but then what you have to do is put some effort into it. Just making the decision doesn't mean you wake up one day, stretch and say "I'm not prejudiced," because you have got this whole socialization experience that you grew up with.Devine found that people whose personal values and standards include being unbiased would try "to learn from mistakes, [try] to absorb material and at the next opportunity when prejudice was possible, they responded in a fair and unbiased way."
Devine also found that if people are responding to both internal motivation (personal values and standards) to act in an unprejudiced way, and to external motivation (social pressure), they will benefit from help in developing skills for acting in an unbiased way.
On the other hand, for people who are only responding to external motivation, the best way to help is not to up the ante by applying more pressure. Rather, a coach should try to facilitate development of internal motivation to break the prejudice habit.