by Cindy Kunsman
Do some conditions increase negativity without our notice? Researchers investigating sleep deprivation found a powerful causal factor for negativity through Implicit Bias – a negative attitude towards people or the group wherein we categorize them. Stereotypes are misleading, but sleep deprivation makes us more likely to resort to them. When tainted by the Negativity Bias, those who manifest it have no difficulty citing explicit reasons for their grim outlook (usually ad nauseum). Those who fall into the trap of Implicit Bias cannot cite evidence or rationales for their prejudice.
Studies of sleep deprivation show a drop in all areas of mental acuity as well as an impressive causal connection with Implicit Bias. We all understand that lack of sleep can make us grumpy, but this study and ongoing work continue to yield data that validates this hypothesis.
If you visit ProjectImplicit.com, you can check your own implicit bias which was given to subjects at the end of a week of sleep deprivation and again some weeks later after they were able to recover. The tool asked them to categorize paired words and concepts to indicate whether they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Everyone performed reasonably well when they were given simple lists of single words, but when those words were paired with other words that made the choice more complex, they demonstrated “moderately strong negative biases.” Even people who fell into a frowned upon category in the study identified themselves as ‘bad.’
We use the heuristic of prejudice to help us make decisions more rapidly, but in the case of the Implicit Bias, we do not perceive our own transient attitude changes. When in a sleep-deprived state, we usually don’t realize or believe that our performance drops below par for our norm. Similar to the Dunning-Kreuger Effect wherein we overestimate our competency, we don’t notice that our attitudes shift into grumpiness which takes a serious toll on our ability to resist prejudice.
We can begin to diminish the likelihood that we will make bad decisions by providing for adequate sleep, and when we find ourselves in a grumpy state, we can guard against snap, automatic prejudice, simply because we know of the tendency. Other studies suggest that anti-bias education helps to reduce the incidence of bias in the workplace, and it may help to include the consideration in workplace hiring practices. When we know that we’re short on sleep, we can make sure to adjust our internal boundaries (those we impose upon ourselves by setting limits on our own behavior) to guard against our grumpy attitudes and situations that will magnify and feed our prejudice.
And it should go without saying that we’re wise to avoid manipulators and cultural enforcers when we’re sleepy because we know that sleep deprivation dulls all of our cognitive abilities.
- McRaney’s podcast about Sleep Deprivation at YouAreNotSoSmart.com
- Gilovich, Griffin, and Kahneman’s Heuristics and Biases
- Banaji and Greenwald’s Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People
- Ross’ Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in our Daily Lives
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