Racial Anchoring

Schools have a role in all societal biases this is in part due to the cognitive anchoring bias. The order we receive information in is important for the next activity you need to find a peer, a pen and a piece of paper. 

Person 1- You have three seconds to estimate the value to the following sum:

1 x 2 x 3 x 4 x 5 x 6 x 7 x 8

Write your answer down in isolation.

Person 2- You have three seconds to estimate the value to the following sum:

8 x 7 x 6 x 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1

Also, write your answer down in isolation.

In comparison, did Person 2 estimate higher than person 1? This works on the premise that an anchor is dropped on the information we receive first; in the first few seconds, you would calculate 1 x 2 x 3 (which equals 6) and then estimate the rest, or we get to 8 x 7 x 6 (which equals 336) and then estimate. This task is from the work of Kahemann and Tversky (1974), who found that people estimated the ascending sequence at 512 and descending at 2250. So the actual answer is 40320.

What’s even more interesting is that when the information we receive first is complete nonsense, we are still likely to drop anchors around it, which means that we are likely to bias regardless of the truth. Strack and Musweiler first dropped anchors by asking groups of candidates whether Mahatma Gandhi died before age 9 or after the age 140. Then both groups were asked to suggest when they thought Gandhi had died; the average age told of the first group was 50 and the second 67. Gandhi was 78 when he was assassinated. The crux of this bias is dependent on where you drop your anchors; even if the anchors are ridiculous, the order we receive them really does matters.

Great! Now we know that the anchoring bias exists, we can stop it; problem solved, we have ended discrimination in our classroom. Sorry, no, even if we know about the anchoring bias, it still plays a role! Like I said, there is work to do (Wilson et al, 1996). At this point, you may feel battered, bruised and you may even be questioning your life’s actions. Full disclosure I took a long time to get over myself. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Anchoring is a ubiquitous human response; unfortunately, as this is an implicit process, it can be highly problematic (Kahneman, 2013).

The long and short of it is simple:

What are you anchors around people of colour?

In his best-selling book, Daniel Kahnemann, Nobel Laurette thinking fast and slow details two discrete systems at work in the human brain. System 1 he describes as being automatic, quick and with no or little effort. System 2 requires attention effort that includes more complex computations. These anchors will exist the only way to ameliorate their impact is by using rational thought (system 2) in recognising and accepting their existence.

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