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You’re more prejudiced than you think

Pic Credit: Master Isolated Images

Pic Credit: Master Isolated Images

Our brains are constantly at work, processing messages and releasing hormones based on often-unconscious cues. These hormones influence our moods and behaviors, and I invite you today to become a little more aware of how your sense of relatedness can trigger them.

I like to start my cross-cultural trainings by saying that it’s completely normal to have stereotypes. We’re simply wired that way – when someone looks different or we don’t know them, our first natural reaction is that of protecting ourselves. This might show up as mistrust and fear. Our brains release stress hormones to shut off logical thinking processes so we can react faster from the more basic fight-or-flight modes.

Stereotypes become problematic if we only take negative information about a people, or if we insist on them and believe that every single German is always punctual, or every single US American is a cowboy. Thankfully, with a little conversation, understanding can be improved and people can often find things they have in common.

Your nose is the best doorman

Our brains make a call whether the people we meet will be friends or enemies without our conscious input. Your nose is a great tool here. For example, you’ve probably heard about the smelly T-Shirt experiment, where scientists were able to show that we’re not attracted to the smells of our own relatives, which makes us more likely to choose mates from other tribes. Helps with genetic diversity and adaptation.

Just like some hormones alert us to the fact that strangers are different, we also have hormones that influence our sense of connection. Mothers giving birth, for example, experience a strong release of oxytocin. This helps with so-called pair bonding and generally encourages maternal behavior. According to Wikipedia,

For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the "love hormone". There is some evidence that oxytocin promotes ethnocentric behavior, incorporating the trust and empathy of in-groups with their suspicion and rejection of outsiders.[3] Furthermore, genetic differences in the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) have been associated with maladaptive social traits such as aggressive behaviour.[4]

Other research even shows that when you deliver oxytocin via a nasal spray, you are significantly more likely to collaborate with strangers (Kosfeld et al, 2005).  

In-groups make all the difference in China

Yes, you guessed it, there are cultural differences to how much we trust strangers. In countries where e.g. respect is allocated by achievement, it is easier to enter into business negotiations with people you don’t know, as long as they can prove a strong track-record of success and doing their jobs well.

In ascription-oriented countries, especially if there’s an orientation towards the community as well, people have to rely on well-established relationships. “Guanxi” describes the Chinese concept of your network, where “nei” is your in-group, and “wai” is your out-group. Without “Guanxi”, you won’t get anywhere, as British supermarket giant Tesco recently discovered. Getting into the in-group takes time, and many a cup of tea over pleasant conversation, before ever talking about business.

The redeeming quality of prejudice and stereotypes is that once you know they happen at an unconscious level, you can work on making them conscious.

Question your assumptions.

As a society, I believe we’re moving toward a more integrated view. TV, the internet, and globalized business are all helping us be more exposed to cultures from all over the world. We’re learning about different points-of-view and behaviors simply by going to our local deli, exotic restaurants, or working with international team members.

While your first reaction may be “oh, weird”, the more you eat at that restaurant or the more you work with that new person, the more you will get to know them. Your brain will become more familiar seeing faces that look different from the one it sees in the mirror, and gradually, our ideas of in-groups will broaden.

At least that’s what I’m hoping. Since it has taken millennia to form our self-protection circuits, getting to an unconscious openness to strangers may take a while longer. But I also believe that a lot of prejudice is learned, so we can definitely educate our children to question their assumptions.

Like this teacher did:




Step 3 - Stop Judging, Start Loving (again)

Picture Credit Ananth Narayan My favorite Jung quote has to be

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

I know from my own experience that when you tick me off, it's probably because you're doing something a) I was always told not to do, or b) I want to do, but am too chicken. Either way, my knee-jerk reaction is going to be petty, begrudging, and resentful. I'm going to want to put you down so I don't have to feel so bad about myself. You're triggering something in me that still needs work to be integrated.

Type knowledge is really helping me understand the so-called Shadow functions, those that are unconscious, active below the surface, mostly bubbling up when I'm sick, tired, or stressed. You know those moments, when words are leaving your mouth as soon as you hear them you're aghast and wonder, "did I really just say that?" I've had plenty of those. They are great learning moments. Tough, but easy to remember, thanks to the strong emotions connected with them.

Let's take a moment to clarify that people with a "J" in their type code are not necessarily judgmental. Yes, J is short for Judging, but what that means in MBTI® theory is the function expressed in the extraverted attitude, what you're letting others see, is either Thinking (Te) or Feeling (Fe). When you have a P in your type code, it doesn't mean you're necessarily more perceptive, but that you're showing your perceiving function, Sensing (Se) or Intuiting (Ne), to the outside world.

How prejudiced are you, really?

Our cultural upbringing is going to play a big role in what is important to us; shaping our values. Someone violating those values will also trigger a judgmental response. Since our limbic brains are still conditioned to operate with a "Be Like Me" program, it's much easier to call someone "lazy" or "incompetent" if they do things differently. Believe me, when you're moving to another country or start working with an international team, that's going to happen a lot.

To appreciate the validity of the different approaches, we have to activate our neocortex and start considering the context that the other person is operating in. This is a conscious exercise, and our brains generally don't want to do a lot of work, so the judgmental or stereotypical response is easier to stick with. My opinion is that a stereotype in and of itself isn't bad, only insisting on it without examining the circumstances or accepting evidence of the contrary is.

Project ImplicitHere's a free online quiz you can take to see how much your unconscious is influencing your judgments:

You'll be asked to associate descriptions (good / bad) with e.g. race (black / white), self (you / others), size (big / small), and other items, depending on which assessments you choose to try out. It's truly insightful, so I hope you can take some time and perhaps even share your results with us.


Is there an Extraversion prejudice in the USA?


Is there an Extraversion prejudice in the USA?

And by prejudice, we meant is Extraversion generally perceived as more desirable than Introversion? This was just one of the questions posed during last night's meeting at the Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter of the Association of Psychological Type. Our presenter, Elizabeth Murphy (Murph), gave this thoughtful response:

by janie.hernandez55 - intended to show outside energy! ;-)
by janie.hernandez55 - intended to show outside energy! ;-)

When Isabel Myers began her exploration of Type and constructing the MBTI(r) instrument, she assumed the E-I distribution was around 75-25. More recent research today shows that it's closer to 50-50, with slightly more males reporting Introversion preferences, and slightly more females reporting Extraversion preferences.

Murph also mentioned something like "residual misinterpretation", where many people may still base their understanding of what E and I mean on the old trait instruments. A trait instrument measures "how much" of something and then pronounces a fixed-sounding result, as Vesa had mentioned in her comment to an earlier post. Very much to the contrary, Type instruments like the MBTI do not measure "how much", they do not measure "how well", but they do measure "which". Therefore, the results will not be plotted on a bell curve, they will show up as either - or.

So, according to the numbers, E and I are pretty evenly distributed. I'd like to add the following cultural perspective for your consideration.

Over the last few hundred years, the USA became the home to large numbers of immigrants. People who had to or chose to leave their home countries in Europe, for instance, due to political or religious persecution, as well as for economic motivations and dreams of a better life.

Were those immigrants more likely to have E or I preferences?

That's hard to tell. If you were a German "Dichter & Denker", i.e. poet & thinker, you may have had Introversion preferences, like Einstein (INTP). If you were ambitious to make a name for yourself, you may have had Extraversion preferences, like Heidi Klum (I'm guessing ESFP, but can't be sure). In any case, going back those hundreds of years when people first started arriving, the immigrants generally left behind their extended families, bringing with them a sense of adventure, and often not much else.

It became necessary to form new alliances, make new friends, find and build new communities.

pic found on
pic found on

Imagine you've just arrived on the East Coast. You step off a boat and need to find your way to that gold mine you heard about. You may want to travel on your own, but is that the safest option? Wouldn't it be more practical to join a group of wagons, all heading West? Well, taking a proactive approach was probably more likely to secure you a spot on that caravan than waiting to be asked.

These circumstances were fertile ground for the development of an individualism, specific, and achievement-focused society.

What does that mean?

In individualistic cultures, the needs of the individual are considered more important than those of the group he or she belongs to. To support individualism, values like self reliance, autonomy, independence, and personal responsibility develop naturally. Behaviors that support those values are readily visible, e.g. a focus on tasks and eating lunch by yourself at your desk where you can continue to check your email instead of taking time to go outside the office and relaxing with a group of colleagues.

Sounds like Introversion, but it isn't. Introversion explains that your mental energy tends to flow inward first. Individualism describes that your circle of primary focus is quite small, mainly on yourself and your nearest relatives.

In specific cultures, the approach to public and private life is compartmentalized and with that, communication patterns like small talk and the ability to form mutually beneficial, but not necessarily long-lasting relationships are the norm. The USA are home to a highly mobile people; moving around for work or studies multiple times throughout one's life is common. Check out the oldie but goodie video about this concept here.

We have already covered that Extraversion has nothing to do with how much a person talks, in fact, some people with Introversion preferences may talk "too much" if they don't pick up on external cues that the conversation partner is ready to move on. However, people with E preferences are more likely to taking action and seeing their thoughts and ideas realized in the outside world. Taking action and doing something is highly valued in achievement-oriented cultures, more so than "just" thinking about doing something.

Since it is considered important that you can show your worth, or display your ability in achievement cultures, everybody has equal opportunity to do so and be considered successful. You don't need to have Extraversion preferences to have a big house, a fast car, go on expensive holidays, enjoy a golf club membership, or lead thousands of Twitter followers.

Are you more likely to achieve such outwardly visible success when using behaviors attributed to Extraversion types in the USA?

Perhaps. In traditional business probably more so, but online and social media are a completely different story. In any case, I don't think we can reduce the expression of Extraversion to the Type principles alone. In my view, the cultural values that have developed over time as a response to environmental circumstances and that continue to influence the behavior we see as desirable today also play a role.

Image by Daryl L. Hunter, Flickr, Creative Commons License.