Podcast: Invisibilia – The Culture Inside

Podcast: Invisibilia – The Culture Inside
Hosts: Hanna Rosin and Alix Spiegel, NPR
Submitted by: Dan Brown, Emory University School of Medicine

At the 2018 ASPE Conference in Kansas City, Jennifer Murphy of the University of Michigan presented on “Addressing Unconscious Bias in SP Training.” At this session, she played an excerpt from NPR’s Invisibilia podcast. The episode she sampled, The Culture Inside, examines the brain’s unconscious biases, particularly relating to race, and how these biases form.

The episode opens with a story of a woman whose connection between her left and right brain was surgically severed. Her hand began acting independently; for example slapping away a cigarette she was smoking with the other hand. This story ties into the discussion of unconscious bias in that it establishes that part of the brain might be working against the conscious self—in a similar way, a person who believes themselves to be free of prejudice may still have biases affecting their actions.

Next are a few stories of such people, and the “aha” moment where they were able to recognize their biases. Of particular interest to our work in medical education is a study by Jack Dovidio revealing the differences in body language when his subjects, all white doctors, interacted with black or white patients. The doctors felt strongly that they had acted without bias, but several made less eye contact, had more closed posture, and leaned away from the patients. The doctors focused on their verbal language in self-assessment and felt that they’d been friendly, but the patients responded much more to the body language.

Next, an African-American, Ron Buford, talks about his trip to London where restaurant staff behaved identically toward him and toward his white colleagues, and he realized how rare that was in America, which led him to found a support group for people who’ve recognized their biases called Racists Anonymous.

In the section of the podcast excerpted by Murphy at ASPE, a path to re-training the brain’s biases (and other habits) is given: to detect the unwanted behavior or thought, reflect on why the behavior or thought occurred, and actively reject the behavior or thought by replacing it with an alternative response.

The final segment features a St. Louis area police officer who initially resisted implicit bias training, but now teaches it.

The episode provides a great groundwork for discussing implicit bias with our SPs and learners. Listen to it here, or read the transcript here.

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