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Pet Sins October 2009 Issue
Viewing the world through colored lenses - how prejudices influence perceptions

Few, if any humans, can claim to be fully free of prejudices. Wherever we may live in the world, we absorb social biases through messages from community and family, or in some places, through repeated images in the mass media. Such prejudices may include, but are not limited to, sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia or religious intolerance.

The more optimistic among us believe that ignorance and stereotyping can be eliminated through education and experience - perhaps learning more about the histories of populations we might be biased against and interacting more with members of these groups can provide a broader view of the experiences of others and dissolve existing prejudices. Although few of us can change our emotions at will, many conscious people, being aware of their irrational prejudices, try not to let their biases negatively affect their interactions with others.

The less optimistic among us have pointed out that increased exposure to the despised Other, whether in real life or through books and other media, may not necessarily change prejudiced opinions. Sometimes, people see only what they want to see. In some cases, an individual's prejudices are so ingrained that any new experience that contradicts the ideas s/he already holds will be rejected as "an exception", and any new experience that confirms the "stereotype" will be accepted as "proof". In other cases, individuals apply mental gymnastics and double standards to new information so that the new information "makes sense" in their old biased world view.

Excuses aside, what matters is the effect our prejudices have on the people we interact with, and the effect other people's prejudice have on us. When people routinely deal with behavior and preferences that trivialize or ignore their presence and achievements, their quality of life is negatively impacted.