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TODAY   |  March 07, 2013

Research: Prejudice is in our DNA

Michele Promaulayko, editor in chief of Women’s Health, and psychologist Dale Atkins discuss new research that suggests that being prejudiced is hard-wired into our DNA, but that we can override genetics and be more self-aware.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> you know the saying don't judge a book by its cover. most of us are taught not to make assumptions on people based on how they look.

>> new research suggests that being biassed or judgmental is hard-wired in our dna. here to tell us what to do about that is women's health editor in chief michelle and psychologist dale.

>> hello, ladies. good to see you all. this is in dangerous territory a little bit, because we don't want anybody to start thinking just because it's in my dna, it's okay to be aa racist.

>> this new research did show somewhat that we all do harbor biases. they do run pretty deep.

>> are most of those things learned? i don't know why you would think certain things about certain people medicals you grew up listening to your parents or somebody talk about it.

>> that's exactly right, hoda, and what happens is that the brain is really signalling us, oh, my goodness, we're frightened, and then what we're frightened about is what we have learned. as michelle said, a lot of this is so deep-seeded, but it's deep-seeded because it's been reinforced culturally, by our family, and then when we get, this oh, my gosh, i'm on alert, we say how will i respond? we respond in ways also that we learn.

>> this stems back to, like, caveman, cave woman days, and anybody who is an outsider that didn't look like us or sound like us was seen as a threat.

>> didn't they all lookalike?

>> they were going take our food and our shelter.

>> obviously that doesn't apply now, but there's a hangover from those days.

>> i don't see it as necessarily a bad thing. if you are walking along restaurant row here in new york, and you pass by all different kinds of food and you think i'm going to have thai food tonight, you've discriminated against all of the others in a way, but you have the right to go get thai food .

>> that's what the brain is supposed to do. the brain is supposed to be able to help you differentiate all of the input of all of the information that's in your environment.

>> okay. what if a girl walks in right now and she has a very, very low cut dress that's also cut very high? now, you're automatically going --

>> men are going to love it.

>> women are going to say --

>> slut.

>> you don't necessarily know that that's the case with her, but she's given you signals, and that's what you believe.

>> you have a reaction, and then you have to override that reaction with your -- well, it's just really by doing it. by changing a negative thought into a more positive thought and conditioning yourself that way. committee we can all use our higher mind instead of going back to that judgy primitive mind.

>> say she is a slut, the men are going to be happy that she is.

>> i don't want to touch this.

>> we can be exposed to all of these things, and we can either -- just because we're exposed, and we're --

>> let's pretend there's an overweight person in the ice cream line. there are some people who would look at that sxhern say, oh, my god, they don't need it.

>> that's their conditioning. that's what they would say. the issue is --

>> it's also true that that person ordering ice cream should probably order something that's better for them.

>> that's judging. isn't that judgy?

>> something healthier. gee, i hope they get the -- so they'll be healthier.

>> you can't help the thought, but you can analyze the thought. you can understand the thought and retrain your brain, so as what michelle said was just so important that you really have to be able to understand why we feel the way we do and then make a conscious effort, be aware, make a conscious effort to change the way you think and behave and that is where --

>> awareness, number one. you guys are cognizant of how you think and react, and not everybody is. that's the point. you are doing it on a subconscious level. if you know you are doing it, you can react more appropriately.

>> i know you know people in that group, whatever the group is that you feel weird about, i think if you know more people in that group and you understand, the more you --

>> you tend to be much more --

>> the study found that exposing yourself to people that you feel positively about that are in that group that you might normally judge is one of the ways to shift your behavior. that's totally --

>> looking at people as individuals and really getting together --

>> you should be doing that anyway.

>> we should, but we don't often, and working together as a team. when you work -- you do.

>> you're your worst critic. you cannot believe how many cakes i ate and the -- you're your own worst critic about it.

>> why did this become about me? i overeat sometimes. a whole bag of jelly beans .