South Australian research into the psychology of bias suggests we may be neurologically set up to be ageist. Prompting the question, how do we overcome bias in the workplace?
The research conducted by Flinders University Psychology Professor Mike Nicholl has found our response to others is subliminally connected to appearance and age, in a subconscious reaction to a person’s appearance.
The study of ‘own-age social biases’ says the perception of faces depends on ‘low-level neuronal processes’.
“While our response is also affected by ‘high-level’ social conditioning, we still seem to have an in-built subconscious reaction to even an ambiguous face or figure,” says Professor Nicholls.
“This explains why young people tend to hang around with other young people, while older people associate with old and young,” Nicholls says.
The Professor suggests the result of this neurological quirk, is we may be less inclusive than we think. Nicholls suggests awareness programs need to be created to ensure we stave off the effect of subconscious bias – particularly in the workplace.
In the study, almost 400 US adults (aged over 18 years) – and a sample study in another country – were briefly shown an ambiguous image of a young and old lady figure, with the test sample not told the study was specifically testing their awareness of age.
The young and old respectively accurately estimated their own age best, showing own-age bias is closely aligned to both their conscious and subconscious reactions.