Implicit bias refers to the incorrect attitudes and beliefs that we all share that at their core, support the unfair treatment of others. We share these biases as a whole because it is in fact society that teaches us these false beliefs.
We each are subject to implicit bias because our brains like to categorize information into mental boxes as part of our cognitive development and back in 1735, Linnaeus, the father of scientific taxonomy, created for us such mental boxes when it came to human beings. In his book, Systema Naturae, he formed racial categories through which he ascribed overgeneralized characteristics to members of each of the racial groups he invented. These categories and associated characteristics have since been passed down from generation to generation, and our brains, hungry for any type of categorization or schema that makes it easier to comprehend input, have continued to soak up these racial categories and stereotypes.
Still many people argue that there is no such thing as implicit bias and that it is in fact, impossible to convince a large society of false information. That claim, however, can be debunked by looking at the Mandela Effect.
The Mandela Effect is a term coined by Fiona Boome in 2019 to refer to large groups of people sharing in false memories and beliefs. She named it the Mandela Effect because at a conference, she learned that many people shared in her false memory of South Africa’s Civil Rights leader Nelson Mandela dying in jail in the 1980’s when in fact, Nelson Mandela went on to become South Africa’s first Black President during the mid to late 90’s and died in 2013 from a lung infection, surrounded by family.
As Boome continued her research, she found many more instances of the Mandela Effect. For instance, when most people were asked who Alexander Hamilton was, they would remember studying him as one of our founding presidents. Furthermore, most people believe that the Evil Queen called to the mirror on her wall in Disney’s Snow White, “Mirror, mirror on the wall” when in fact, it was “Magic mirror on the wall.” There are many more examples. For instance, most people think the famous deodorizer is spelled Febreeze rather than Febreze. Or that the Bernstain Bears from the famous children’s books are the Bernstein Bears.
Schema Theory at its Best
There are many theories as to why large groups of people have these common false memories and/or beliefs. For instance, some believe that the Mandela Effect is due to an alternate universe that is intersecting with our own world. However, a simpler and more scientific explanation can be found in understanding Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development. Because the conscious brain can only process .00001% of the information it receives, it creates mental boxes, also known as schemas, that allow us to quickly categorize information. These schemas help our brains be more efficient against the inundation of information we constantly face. These schemas explain the Mandela Effect.
For example, when we study US history, we have a mental box for old men with ponytails during the early years as a nation whose names, if we still remember, were likely founding presidents. Therefore, we remember studying that Alexander Hamilton was a founding president even though he never realized that aspiration.
Similarly, the original, non-Disney version of Snow White was in fact “Mirror, mirror on the wall.” Therefore, society already had a collective memory of the line before Disney took creative license in 1937. Even if the movie is an individual’s only exposure, we have a schema for Snow White and in it, we have placed the catchier line that generations before us were passing down to their children who then, passed it down to their children, and so forth, very much like the racial hierarchy that continues to be passed down through the generations. This, in fact, shows how difficult it is to reconstruct schemas (and consequently, implicit bias.)
The misspelling of Febreze is also easily explained by schema since we have a schema for the word “breeze,” and therefore, the similar sounding brand name is quickly incorporated into that mental box. We additionally have a schema for last names that end with stein and quickly place the “Bernstain Bears,” which sounds so similar to such names, into the same mental box.
And finally, the false memory for which the Mandela Effect is named, President Nelson Mandela’s supposed death in the 1980’s, is yet another example of how the schema theory explains false memories and beliefs. Let’s think about that mental box we have for famous, nonviolent, Civil Rights leaders. The two most famous such leaders are Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from the United States and Mahatma Gandhi from India. Both died violent deaths due to and during their activism. And so comes the stereotype that nonviolent Civil Rights leaders die violent deaths during their activism. Nelson Mandela being released from jail and ascending to presidency in a post-apartheid country doesn’t fit our stereotypes and so, a false narrative is created by the brain to suit the mental construct we have made.
Implicit Bias & The Mandela Effect
If indeed we, as a society, can invent entire counterfactual histories because of our propensity to create mental boxes and associated stereotypes, does it not make sense that we, as a society, would be susceptible to racial schemas that were purposely created to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few? If indeed, most of our only exposures to Snow White is Disney’s rendition, and we still collectively remember “Mirror, mirror on the wall,” does it not seem plausible that our brains would continue to inherit schemas that were created for public consumption in the 1700’s that literally shaped the economic development of the modern world? And yet, just as we can challenge these beliefs described as the “Mandela Effect,” does it not make sense that we can challenge our own implicit bias if we accept that they exist and make an effort to recognize them? In fact, could we not say that implicit bias is actually another example of the Mandela Effect?
So it’s time to put a rest to the question of whether or not implicit biases are real and work on catching and dismantling them. What are you doing to dismantle your implicit bias? Comment down below.