Thursday, May 16, 2013

Driving on the left side of the road

In the States, it's not so advisable to drive on the left side of the road as you will invariably hit an oncoming car. Having found myself in the UK last week for a workshop on reaction rate theory, where I rented a car to make my travel connections work, I can tell you that even without the oncoming cars, driving on the left side remained tricky. Indeed, all of my instincts were wired the wrong way. I had to actively think about entering on the left, not the right, side of a road as I exited from a roundabout. (Don't even try to understand roundabouts!) My left hand was on the stick, but my left foot was still on the clutch pedal. So it wasn't a complete 100% mirror reflection at the controls.

In order to simplify driving, and likely many other decisions in my day, I (and you) evidently do many tasks automatically. In the context of driving on the left side of the road or even just walking across the road in the UK, nearly everyone in the workshop—whether they were from the States or continental Europe—found it difficult to reset our programmed brains. (Look right then left before crossing the road or is it the other way around?) Similarly, how many such decisions are taking place automatically when we grade exams, review proposals, or select faculty candidates? Can we really be sure that we are making the right decision in all of these cases if we don't have complete control or awareness of our own implicit biases?

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