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Want to Be Less Biased? Take a Nap

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Outright racism and sexism may not be socially acceptable in many places these days, but long-held cultural beliefs about women and people of color still have a hold on society. Men are still more likely to be hired in the scientific world than women, even if their applications are otherwise identical. In lab tests, people are quicker to categorize black faces with “bad” words than good, and quicker to shoot black targets in video games. However, a study by Northwestern University psychologists published last week in Science finds that people can be taught to shed some of their knee-jerk reactions toward women and people of color. But it helps if they take a nap. 

The researchers tested 40 men and women, all white, on their implicit assumptions of race and gender by showing them pictures of women and black men. Each picture was accompanied by a word—for the gender test, art- and science-related words; for the race test, words denoting good and bad qualities. Initially, the participants expressed implicit social biases, showing a greater tendency to link women with artistic words (not scientific) and black men with unpleasantness. 

Then, participants went through anti-bias training. They were instructed to select only the picture-word pairs that went against the stereotype, linking women with science and black men with goodness. Meanwhile, the scientists played specific sounds when the participants were shown correct (non-stereotypical) pairings, with one sound for the racial counter-bias pair, and one for the gender-related pair. Afterward, people showed decreased bias compared to their original baseline levels. 

Image Credit: Hu et. al, Science 2015

Later, the participants took a 90-minute nap. As they slept, the scientists played one of the two auditory cues. Once they woke up, the participants’ implicit biases were tested again. If they heard one of the cues during sleep, their implicit biases were significantly reduced compared to before sleeping. Those who didn’t hear the cue sound didn’t exhibit any change in implicit bias between going to sleep and waking up. A week later, those who heard the cues during sleep retained their bias reduction. 

Previous research by some of the same psychologists found that in general, sleeping helps reinforce memories of what you’ve already learned. Apparently, this applies not just to learning facts. 

"Biases can operate even when we have the conscious intention to avoid them," as co-author Galen Bodenhausen explained in a press statement. Even well-intentioned people exhibit racial and gender biases, which are often reinforced by portrayals in media. Anti-bias training could help people shed some of those unconscious associations. 

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What Pop Culture Gets Wrong About Dissociative Identity Disorder
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From the characters in Fight Club to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, popular culture is filled with "split" personalities. These dramatic figures might be entertaining, but they're rarely (if ever) scientifically accurate, SciShow Psych's Hank Green explains in the channel's latest video. Most representations contribute to a collective misunderstanding of dissociative identity disorder, or DID, which was once known as multiple personality disorder.

Experts often disagree about DID's diagnostic criteria, what causes it, and in some cases, whether it exists at all. Many, however, agree that people with DID don't have multiple figures living inside their heads, all clamoring to take over their body at a moment's notice. Those with DID do have fragmented personalities, which can cause lapses of memory, psychological distress, and impaired daily function, among other side effects.

Learn more about DID (and what the media gets wrong about mental illness) by watching the video below.

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Humblebraggarts Are the Worst (Science Says So)
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Humblebraggarts. We all know (at least) one: that person who takes a woe-is-me tack to ostensibly "complain" about something when the real intent is to boast.

"It's noon, I haven't had a cup of coffee, and the espresso machine at this Mercedes dealer is broken. FML!"

"Have been sitting on the runway for 30 minutes. Next time I'm flying commercial instead of private."

In many ways, it's another version of #FirstWorldProblems, and social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have only made the practice more pervasive. As TIME reports, a new study has concluded that people see right through this fake humility—and like people less for doing it.

Researchers at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a series of nine experiments, including a week-long diary study and a field experiment, to both identify the ubiquity of the behavior and then determine its effectiveness as a form of self-presentation. Their findings, which were published in the January Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, determined that if you're going to brag, people would rather you just be transparent about it.

"It's such a common phenomenon," Ovul Sezer, study co-author and an assistant professor of organizational behavior at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, told TIME. "All of us know some people in our lives, whether in social media or in the workplace, who do this annoying thing. You think, as the humblebragger, that it's the best of both worlds, but what we show is that sincerity is actually the key ingredient."

Of the 646 participants, 70 percent of them could recall a recent humblebrag they'd heard—the majority of which (about 60 percent) were complaint-based. But the study showed, overwhelmingly, that any statements that could be perceived as humblebragging (whether complaint- or humility-based) "are less effective than straightforward bragging, as they reduce liking, perceived competence, compliance with requests, and financial generosity," according to the study's authors.

"Despite the belief that combining bragging with complaining or humility confers the benefits of each strategy," the study concluded, "we find that humblebragging confers the benefits of neither, instead backfiring because it is seen as insincere.”

In other words: they're not fooling anyone.

"If you want to announce something, go with the brag and at least own your self-promotion and reap the rewards of being sincere, rather than losing in all dimensions," Sezer said—though she suggested that an even more effective tactic is to find someone else to boast on your behalf. "If someone brags for you, that's the best thing that can happen to you, because then you don't seem like you're bragging," she told TIME.

However, Sezer's final piece of advice was not to be too hasty in your dismissal of humblebraggarts as a whole. "We all do it, to some extent," she said. "I hope I don't sound like I'm humblebragging when I talk about this research."

[h/t: TIME]

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