The other day, my friend Brian, told me that the Asian girls on his college campus dressed very “scandalous.” I asked him if he thought that they dressed more scandalously than white folks. He said yes. My other friend, Nate, was also there and he seemed to agree—or more like agree in an objective way by saying that the image of Asian girls is kind of risqué, at least portrayed as such by pseudo-celebrities like Tila Tequila. In my best psychology professor voice, I tried to tell them the concept of confirmation bias, which is the selective memory of things that confirm preconceived notions. I firmly believe that this psychological concept is manifested in us every single day. Confirmation bias can occur where it is unwarranted. For example, let’s take something that is obviously unfounded—like smokers drive red cars. If you believed this, every time a red car passed by with a driver that had a cigarette on his or her lips, you would subconsciously (or very consciously) store that in your memory because it confirmed your belief, no matter how irrational it was.
Not all biases are unfounded; many of them have some truth to them, which is why such biases were formed in the first place. This may be a bad example, but just the other day I saw a rather buff guy with a tight shirt, and it confirmed my bias that buff guys love showing off their muscles. I think this one has some truth to it, but then again, there may be just as many buff guys who don’t like to show people how many hours they spend in the gym.
And then there are biases that are outright wrong. The bias that Asian girls dress more scandalously is probably wrong. You see, 95% of the people on Brian’s campus are white, and so it makes it hard to make stereotypes about a population that is so predominant, whereas it is easier to make stereotypes of the minority. Let’s say that Brian saw a horde of 30 white girls walking to class in bikinis, everyday for a month, my guess is that he wouldn’t ever conclude, “Geez, white girls are so scandalous,” because there would always be 15,000 other white girls who didn’t dress like that. But ironically, if he saw a small group of five Asian girls wearing miniskirts, everyday for a week, he would conclude, as he has, “Geez, Asian girls are so scandalous.”
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe on Brian’s campus, Asian girls are scantily clad above the national average. But all I know is that a week after our conversation, Brian came back to me and said, “Hey, I’ve been looking around campus this week… and there are a lot of modestly dressed Asian girls.”