Do you accept the argument that we are completely oblivious to our unconsciously motivated behavior? Is this just a convenient excuse to justify our biases?
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Yes, I do agree that we are completely oblivious to our unconsciously motivated behavior. Many people make judgments about others without even knowing them properly, which is not a good attitude. Such unconscious judgments are a part of human behavior and it is difficult, if not impossible, to change it. Several examples depict how our unconscious mind gives judgments about others.
If we look at our world today, we will find that many of us tend to make judgments unconsciously without any reasoning or inner feelings. For example, we would assume that a person who wears spectacles is a nerd. This supposition of ours might be because, during our lives, we might have come across certain people wearing spectacles who must have proved to be unusual. This implies that we have a prejudice towards people who wear spectacles. Such prejudice is developed gradually since childhood as we visualize and interpret the happenings around us (Teaching Tolerance par. 10). Similarly, we would assume an Indian to be a good technician. Again, this supposition might be since, within our surroundings, we see several Indians working as technicians. Another example could be that we consider Asians to have great scholarly capabilities in mathematics and science. In this case, our supposition is because we see several Chinese students doing well in scientific subjects such as plant and animal habitat. Yet another example could be that we assume all Arabs to be rich. This thought comes to our mind because we know that the Gulf region is rich in natural resources such as oil, and it is one of the major suppliers of oil-based products to the international market.
Our consciousness is structured according to the several experiences and incidents that happen in our life. During our life’s journey, certain events develop our thoughts. Our experiences might have been about things that are not necessarily true from the global perspective. Such experiences make us form false assumptions about people and things. When we encounter any particular incident, our mind sends a message to our conscious, and this is how our consciousness is formed (positive or negative).
To keep ourselves away from such false assumptions, we should not form our opinion simply by seeing things. We should interpret things with a broad perspective. There is a famous saying, “Never judge a book by its cover.” We should always educate ourselves and learn about new things to make our conscious awareness of different matters. This way, we will be able to allow ourselves to be more realistic towards judging or giving an opinion about a matter.
The best examples of our unconsciously motivated behavior are our social beliefs. It is human tendency to believe what society believes. So, if society believes that African Americans are not good, it means that for us also they are not good. Since childhood, we hear bad things about blacks. It does not mean that the blacks are really bad. Since every reference that we have heard (since our childhood) about blacks points a finger at them, we also start believing that blacks are bad. This particular thought does not make us racists (Gladwell 29).
Such thoughts are based on our conscious and unconscious attitudes. Our conscious attitude forces us to believe such things, and ultimately, it becomes our choice. So, earlier when we talked about the blacks, it was our ‘conscious discrimination’ that made us believe that blacks are bad. This means that our thoughts are controlling our actions and beliefs. In other words, we think and decide on any particular subject, and when we think, our previous experiences come to the forefront and influence our thoughts.
On the other hand, our unconscious attitude does not allow us to think. The response is instant in circumstances where our unconscious attitude is in action. Such an unconscious attitude is visible in circumstances where we are aware of the topic being discussed or asked. Like for example, if there are a cricket ball and a football, and we are asked to pick the bigger one, we will immediately pick the football. It is because we are sure about that, and we do not need any confirmation. It also means that we are oblivious to our unconsciously motivated behavior.
From this discussion, we understand that while our conscious attitude is self-reported, the unconscious one is pre-assessed. In the case of the conscious attitude, we are not sure where the thought came from or where the origin of our beliefs lies. However, this aspect cannot be taken as a distinguishing feature of conscious and unconscious attitudes. Our conscious attitude might influence our unconscious attitude. In the example of the blacks that we discussed earlier in this paper, our childhood experiences developed our conscious attitude but, if such experiences exceed a certain level, they leave a solid mark on our conscious minds. This is when our unconscious attitude gets influenced by our conscious attitude and we start believing it to be true that blacks are bad; a prejudice against the blacks is formed. As I said, what we think cannot necessarily be a universal truth. Some blacks have more white friends, and this means that all whites don’t hate blacks.
As I have read in Malcolm’s book, car salesmen tend to be more friendly and helpful toward customers who dress up well or look like they come from a nice background. Their supposition is based on the teachings that they have acquired from society. We care a lot about status and tend to respect people who have a high status. Moreover, the car salesman is aware of the fact that if a person is well dressed and seems to be affluent, there are chances that a sale might be registered. The salesman does not have to think twice about the possibility of a sale. Thinking of this situation from a different perspective, it is quite possible that the person wearing nice clothes has come to the showroom just to kill time or simply meet someone. So the conscious attitude is sometimes deceptive.
In conclusion, our consciousness can mislead a situation and create a different image in our mind about a person or a situation. I strongly recommend that we should think a lot and consider all perspectives before arriving at a judgment about a person, thing, or issue.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, London: Little, Brown, 2007. Print.
Teaching Tolerance. n.d. Test Yourself for Hidden Bias. Web.