Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias (Hardcover)

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Uncovers the science behind our "unintentional" biases using real world stories underpinned by scientific theories and research.

Experiments have shown that our brains categorize people by race in less than one-tenth of a second, about 50 milliseconds before determining sex. This means that we are labeling people by race and associating certain characteristics to them without even hearing them speak or getting to know them. This subtle cognitive process starts in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with strong emotions.

Does this mean that unconscious biases are hardwired into our brains as an evolutionary response, or do they emerge from assimilating information that we see around us? In Sway, author Pragya Agarwal uncovers the science behind our "unintentional" biases. Using real world stories underpinned by scientific theories and research, this book unravels the way our unconscious biases are affecting the way we communicate, make decisions and perceive the world. A wide range of implicit biases are covered, including left-handedness, age-ism, sexism and aversive racism, and by using research and theories from a wide range of disciplines, including social science, psychology, biology and neuroscience, readers learn how these biases manifest and whether there is anything we can do about them. Beginning with an introduction to what unconscious bias actually is, each chapter answers questions such as:

-Do our roots for prejudice lie in our evolutionary past?
-What happens in our brains when our biases are activated?
-How has bias affected technology?
-Can we ever completely get rid of unconscious bias?

At a time when race politics, the gender pay gap and diversity and inclusivity in the workplace are dominating our conversations, understanding how unconscious bias functions within all of us is more important than ever. The book encourages readers to think, understand and evaluate their own biases in a scientific and non-judgmental way.

About the Author


Dr Pragya Agarwal is a behavioural scientist, with expertise in cognition, HCI and User-centred Design, focussed especially in diversity and inclusivity. She was a senior academic for over 12 years at US and UK Universities, and held the prestigious Leverhulme Fellowship, following a PhD from the University of Nottingham. Pragya has published numerous scientific articles and books, some of which are on the reading list for leading courses around the world. As a freelance writer, she regularly writes thought pieces on racial and gender bias for The Guardian, Times Higher Education, Forbes, Prospect, Independent, Metro, Huffington Post and various other publications.

Pragya is a two-time TEDx speaker, and was named as one of the 100 influential women in social enterprise in the UK, and one of 50 people creating change in the UK-India corridor on the High and Mighty list. She has been invited to give keynote talks and workshops around the world, and has appeared on several international podcasts, radio and television channels, such as BBC Woman's Hour, BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live, BBC Merseyside, Australian Broadcasting Service, and Canadian Radio. She organised the first ever TEDxWoman event in the north of the country, and has a podcast called 'Outside the Boxes'.

She can be found on twitter as @DrPragyaAgarwal

Praise For…


“An important look at one of the issues facing Western society today. This book exposes the insidiousness of unconscious bias and offers us a way to change the way we think that is practical, useful, readable and essential for the times we are living in. You need to read this book and think about the way you live and how you view others.” —Nikesh Shukla, author and editor of The Good Immigrant, screenwriter and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

“An exhaustive, brilliantly researched survey of bias and how it seeps so easily into our everyday thoughts and actions, from gender essentialism to casual racism. Calmly and without polemic, Agarwal explains why we all need to work harder to avoid lazy prejudice and simplistic narratives if we are to build a fairer society. An eye-opening book that I hope will be widely read.” —Angela Saini, science journalist and author of Superior and Inferior

“If you think you don't need to read this book, you really need to read this book.” —Jane Garvey, presenter, BBC Radio 4

“This indispensable book takes us into our own minds and helps us understand why we believe what we believe and how we can confront ourselves with not just an understanding of other people, but who we are too. A book that is challenging, fascinating and useful, and if we take notice, a book that could make us better people.” —Robin Ince, comedian, writer and broadcaster

“Approaching the contentious issue of social bias with nuance and a broad range of exhaustive research, behavioural scientist, activist and writer, Agarwal demonstrates how unconscious prejudice is still immensely prevalent in contemporary society. Cogently argued and intensely persuasive, Sway is an enlightening account of how entrenched sets of stereotypes have become. ” —Waterstones

“Scrupulously researched, engagingly written, and searingly relevant.” —Caroline Sanderson, editor at The Bookseller

“This book is totally fascinating and a reminder that we are all complex creatures with multiple layers. This book is vital reading, eye-opening and a helping hand to arm ourselves with the knowledge to be and do better.” —Emma Gannon, writer, podcast host and author of The Multi-Hyphen Method

“In a well-researched and cogent work, behavioral scientist Agarwal reveals the many ways implicit or unconscious bias influences one's decisions, worldview, and interactions with others ... this relevant work accessibly reveals the insidious nature of stereotyping and does much to encourage readers to examine-and take responsibility for-their own implicit biases.” —Publisher's Weekly

“A serious exploration of the neuroscience and psychology of bias … Solid, definitely-not-dumbed-down popular science.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A fascinating and vital read.” —Good Housekeeping

“Fascinating, sometimes challenging, read, for fans of Caroline Criado Perez's Invisible Women and Angela Saini's Superior.” —BBC Science Focus

Product Details
ISBN: 9781472971357
ISBN-10: 1472971353
Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma
Publication Date: June 2nd, 2020
Pages: 448