Dog or a Goat? – Semantic Network and Subconscious Bias

We tend to laugh and think it’s cute when a two year old confuses a dog for a goat, because that shows that they are still learning. It also shows a lot of other things we don’t necessarily think about when they make these errors.

Semantic network is a concept that explains how us humans as well as computers structure and store information. It’s a web or network of concepts with a hierarchical model. Nodes represent higher order categories, drilling down to lower ones and lines represent associations. In this example below, the high level node is a mammal, then animals that fit the criteria of a mammal and details to differentiate those animals. This would be similar to the semantic network a two year old is trying to construct as they are learning the difference between a goat and a dog, but it’s an understandable mistake as both have four legs.

Image result for Semantic Network

In adults, There are different ways of bringing people’s semantic network to surface and address subconscious biases. When it comes to understanding our social environment, we tend to put people and their identity in groups and then assign those groups attributes. And then that semantic network runs as an algorithm for understanding new experiences, therefore a worldview.

These attributes can have both positive and negative connotations and based on those connotations many decisions are made and kept from being made. We can take any group, majority and minority and talk about its pros and cons. But the idea is to be aware that they exist and whether they are positive or negative or even accurate. Because sometimes it’s the metrics and how we define them holds the society back rather than the actual talent or potential within our society.

This semantic network within our minds becomes apparent when we see groups of people fitting in similar patterns. Different nodes /groups such as rich, poor, young, old, different races, educational backgrounds all have positive and negative connotations attached to them. And when an individual from a group steps outside of their “default” group they have to constantly prove themselves (particularly minority) only because they don’t fit in the semantic network created by the society. And when an individual from a particular node fails to recognize that this semantic network exists which runs as an algorithm to structure our society, he or she subconsciously internalizes and starts to believe in what is told of them rather than who they truly are. This is also called self fulfilling prophecy.

I hope for a world where the information in our semantic network is constantly altered and challenged to fit what is and doesn’t dictate what the world should be. Also, That our own semantic network doesn’t hold us back from reaching our highest potential because we are afraid of not fitting into the one created by our society.

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