Special thanks to Violeta Donawa, LMSW, MA, ADS, whose conversations are always so educational and thought provoking. When we first met, we were exploring Havening Techniques® and the conversation led to an inspired idea based on pondering: Can we use Havening to erase unconscious bias? We both walked away thinking “Woah, there might be something here!” Violeta said “You can call it Havening for the Other.” It’s been many months since that first conversation. I am honored that Violeta came on my podcast to share her knowledge and wisdom. Months passed and I didn’t forget the goal to freely share Havening for the Other in a way that people can explore their unconscious biases as privately as they saw fit. When I came upon the Flip It to Test It Method I realized that this was the prompt I was looking for. The simplicity of first using Flip It to Test It Method to find your target (an unconscious bias) and then applying Havening Techniques® to dismantle them (or to install new beliefs) was exactly what I was waiting for.
Uncovering Unconscious Bias with the Flip It to Test It Method
In our quest for fairness and equality, it’s easy to assume that we are free from biases and prejudices. Yet, deep within our subconscious minds, hidden from our conscious awareness, lie the roots of unconscious biases. These biases, shaped by our upbringing, culture, epigenetics, and experiences, influence our perceptions and decisions without us even realizing it. The good news is that there’s a powerful (yet super simple) tool we can use to expose these hidden biases – the Flip It to Test It method. And then, once we know what those biases are, we have another powerful (yet super simple) tool we can use to dismantle the bias within the neural encodings of the subconscious mind. I kids you not.
Unconscious biases affect us all. Akin to silent operators these biases are directing our cognitions, autonomic responses, somatosensory experiences, and emotions. Our resultant thoughts and actions are thus based on preconceived notions we may not be consciously aware of. Unconscious biases can manifest in various forms, such as gender bias, racial bias, age bias, and more. These biases impact how we perceive others, make judgments, and interact in our daily lives. Even those with the best intentions can harbor biases that influence their thoughts and actions in subtle ways.
In a 2017 TEDx talk, HR executive Kristen Pressner admitted she held an unconscious bias against women leaders, despite being a woman leader herself. This realization inspired her to research unconscious bias and develop a simple tactic to uncover it.
In her talk, Pressner explained how our brains take shortcuts, filtering information through patterns we’ve absorbed throughout our lives. Shortcuts become problematic when they lead to unfair biases, even when we believe we’re free of bias. She also cited research showing both men and women hold an unconscious bias against women leaders.
What was her simple tactic to uncover unconscious bias? The idea is to mentally flip the gender, race, identity, or other attributes of the people we encounter. By doing this, we challenge our automatic assumptions and reactions, revealing any unconscious biases we might hold. She calls this the Flip It to Test It method. For example, Pressner realized she responded differently when a male and female colleague asked for a raise. Flipping their genders exposed her unconscious bias.
To try Flip It to Test It, mentally switch the identities of whoever you’re interacting with and observe if it changes your reaction. Does anything feel off? You may have uncovered a bias. Let’s say you have an upcoming job interview and are about to meet two candidates – one cis and one trans. Take a moment to envision them in your mind. Now, “Flip It” – imagine swapping their genders. Notice any immediate changes in your feelings or impressions. Does anything feel different or unusual?
Based on Pressner’s advice, try flipping the genders in typical “take charge” and “take care” stereotypes. This method helps intercept biased thinking and allows you to choose actions aligned with your values.
The “A-Ha” Moments
In employing the Flip It to Test It method, you might encounter some “a-ha” moments. You could realize that you unintentionally expected the male candidate to be more assertive and decisive, and the female candidate to be nurturing and supportive. Such realizations can be eye-opening, leading to a deeper understanding of our unconscious biases.
Breaking Free from Biases
Becoming aware of our unconscious biases is a crucial step toward breaking free from their hold on our actions and decisions. By “flipping” our perceptions, we open ourselves up cognitively to seeing people as individuals rather than adhering to stereotypes. This shift in perspective allows us to make more unbiased choices by practicing conscious decision-making in the face of bias.
But what if we can shift the neuronal encodings in our brains: dismantling these encodings at the cellular level? Good news: we can!
Havening Techniques® can help us to dismantle encodings as well as to build new pathways. Havening uses C.A.S.E. to help to find a target. If we look at how the Flip It to Test It helps us get on the C.A.S.E. (yes, I think I’m funny), here are some ideas:
The Flip It to Test It method is a powerful tool to help expose C.A.S.E. elements (cognition, autonomic responses, somatosensory experiences, and emotional reactions) that are influenced by unconscious biases. Let’s explore how this technique can help uncover one or more of these:
- The Flip It to Test It method challenges automatic assumptions and stereotypes by encouraging individuals to mentally flip the gender or identity of individuals they encounter.
- By doing so, people are forced to question their initial cognitive responses and examine whether their reactions are influenced by biases.
- This process promotes cognitive awareness and helps individuals identify a great target for Havening (more on this in a bit).
- When individuals practice the Flip It to Test It method, they may become more aware of their physiological responses during the mental exercise.
- If a person notices heightened sympathetic or parasympathetic activity while the gender or identity of someone was flipped or not, it could indicate that unconscious biases are affecting their autonomic responses.
- Recognizing these physiological reactions can be a signal that you’ve found a great target to Haven on.
- The Flip It to Test It technique can also bring attention to somatosensory experiences, such as changes in posture or body language while mentally “flipping” individuals, or the vice versa (you may notice that had changed due to unconscious bias prior to the flip)
- If someone observes discomfort or changes in their body language, it could indicate that their biases are influencing how they physically interact with different groups.
- This heightened self-awareness allows individuals to find — yep, you guessed it — a great target for Havening.
- The Flip It to Test It method can evoke emotional responses during the mental exercise, such as surprise, unease, or even guilt. It can also help you notice the emotions that were present before the flip.
- The emotional reactions along the lines of surprise, unease, or even guilt may arise when individuals realize that their initial emotional responses were influenced by biases rather than objective assessments.
- You may notice emotional responses that were present before the flip, such as fear, hesitation, or discomfort. These emotions can be evoked by unconscious biases that were affecting your initial perceptions.
- By acknowledging these emotional reactions, you will likely be able to find a target for Havening.
In summary, the “Flip It to Test It” method serves as a mirror that reflects unconscious biases in cognition, autonomic responses, somatosensory experiences, and emotional reactions. By actively engaging in this exercise, individuals can increase their self-awareness, identify biases, and take conscious steps towards becoming more open-minded, fair, and inclusive in their thoughts and actions.
What is a ‘Target’?
Great question! Let’s take a moment to understand where that target (learning) came from. I recently posted about fast and slow learning and fast and slow unlearning. Memories likely also play into this, however, the mechanisms for learning and memory are closely related and share many similarities (e.g. LTP), so I am taking the liberty of lumping them here together.
Unconscious bias can be the result of both fast learning (threat- or novelty-based) and slow learning (“normal” learning), depending on the context and the specific biases in question. Additionally it could be a “learning” that was passed down epigenetically: Epigenetic changes can play a role in the development of certain cognitive patterns and emotional responses, which may contribute to the formation of unconscious biases.
- Fast Learning (Threat / Novelty):
Personally I can tell you that there must’ve been some threat involving a mustached man in my early childhood. I spent the major part of the month of November thinking my friend suddenly hated me. Then he shaved on December 1. He has grown the mustache for Mo-vember. I could breather again. I told him I thought he hated me and was evil. We laughed. You would likely benefit from watching these 2 videos: Havening Explainer and EMLI. These cover the threat-based fast learning. No mustaches.
- Slow Learning (“Normal Learning”):
Unconscious biases can also develop over time through slow learning, which is the result of repeated exposure to certain beliefs, social norms, and cultural influences. As individuals grow and interact with their environment, they absorb information from family, peers, media, and society, which shapes their perceptions and attitudes. For instance, biases related to gender roles, racial stereotypes, or cultural assumptions often result from gradual and cumulative exposure to societal messages and experiences. These learned biases become ingrained in the subconscious mind, influencing how individuals perceive and interact with others.
Epigenetics provides a biological mechanism by which social and environmental exposures may embed unconscious biases through altered gene expression. See: Systemic racism can get under our skin and into our genes.