Profiling is often a word used in criminal investigations. Its loose dictionary definition is “the recording and analysis of a person’s psychological and behavioural characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere or to assist in identifying categories of people.”
Now, do we profile people in normal life, work-life? Yes, No?
Yes, we all do. Yet we do not recognise it. We often confuse it with word judgement or stereotyping because of late those words have got a bad rap.
I always say everyone judges others. Even people who say others not to judge – judge people who judge (yes it’s convoluted and straight).
Profiling – is a way of self-protection. In this post, we are talking about profiling at an individual level, not at the criminal investigation level done by state agencies. When we meet people, whom we don’t know much, immediately our brain looks for clues which are familiar and unfamiliar. When we work with someone unfamiliar our brain goes into the defensive mode of profiling so that we can fairly assess them so as to keep us one step ahead of them. What do they think, how do they think, will they be my ally or enemy, will they be supportive of my endeavour, what would they want from me, our brain wants to collect all these data even before the actual data points unveil through interactions and actions.
To keep us one step ahead we will always profile people around us. So we know how to conduct ourselves, so we know what to anticipate from them, we will always profile people. It’s a safety net. Being in an unknown territory is scary. So the brain tries to make it a known territory by profiling others for our benefit. Obviously, the profiling done by an individual at a subconscious level will be based on their life experience. This is where the subconscious bias creeps.
Unlike profiling done by state agencies which have a lot of scientific research to back it(even that is often flawed), individual profiling will be biased and flawed based on every individual’s experience. The bias and flaws are in favour of the person who is profiling others. It’s not to hurt others but to protect themselves first.
When this profiling spills into the area of judgement and bias that is where conflicts begin. When the initial profiling data is held on by the individual like a hard ironclad proof is when problems occur. The primitive self profiled data should be treated as guidance that has to be metered and adjusted as and when new data comes via live interaction. So we need to acknowledge that we all profile others and it’s normal and acceptable. But to grow further as a society we need to keep a watch on the line between profiling and bias.