You can't always trust your brain — it uses shortcuts, fills in the gaps, finds comfort in the familiar and jumps to quick assumptions. But you can sometimes outsmart it.

That's the message of the Bias Inside Us, an exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service that aims to show that implicit bias is part of being human.

Developed in part by a Minnesotan, the exhibit is at the Science Museum of Minnesota through Feb. 26, as part of its tour of 40 stops nationwide.

Inside the museum's fourth-floor Discovery Hall, the small but impactful exhibit illustrates the differences between implicit bias, which results from quick and unconscious assumptions that our brain makes, and explicit bias, which is a conscious belief about a person or group that can lead to prejudice and discrimination.

The goals of the exhibit are to help visitors understand — and spark meaningful conversations about — implicit bias.

"If people walk out of it with a nugget that they can walk around with and bring up with other people, I just think that would be a really great outcome," said Bette Schmit, director of experience planning and development at the St. Paul museum.

With middle and high school aged kids in mind, the Bias Inside Us draws on work by Harvard professors — including Mahzarin Banaji, who popularized the concept of implicit bias — to ground the experience in brain-based scientific research. Using displays, videos, posters and an interactive role-playing game, the exhibit reveals how bias can create blind spots, become explicit and lead to systemic wrongs.

One display demonstrates how our brains can make us see two colored squares as starkly different colors — even though they are the exact same shade of gray. There's also a giant model of the brain that lights up at the push of a button, showing how its parts determine how we feel, the associations we make and how we consider a situation.

Short, first-person videos share accounts from people who have experienced bias' harmful consequences. And a role-playing game lets visitors practice how to respond when talking with a group of friends about microaggressions or unintentional statements that reveal bias.

Inform and encourage

For the Smithsonian, which is sending the Bias Inside Us for free to institutions that applied to host it, the exhibit is part of a four-year, national community engagement project.

The project — years in the making — began as an idea by Twin Cities educator and filmmaker Laura Zelle. At first, Zelle hoped to create a traveling educational experience that would build tolerance and teach about antisemitism, drawing on her experience as Holocaust Education Director at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.

She broadened the concept, successfully pitched it to the Smithsonian and, as project manager, led a team in developing the exhibit.

"We focused on the core message that having bias is part of our human experience, because it's an automatic firing in your brain that's unconscious a lot of the time. It's only through that awareness that you can begin to recognize it — and it's OK," Zelle said. "We wanted to bring the defenses down. We wanted people to be able to respond in a way that would be productive."

While the exhibit's scope and impact are national, it includes content that is very local. A section focusing on housing discrimination shows clips from "Jim Crow of the North," the TPT documentary about racist and antisemitic restrictive real estate covenants in the Twin Cities.

When Science Museum staffers were installing the exhibit earlier this winter, that section was the one they kept thinking about, Schmit said. "It resonates because that's here," she said.

Even as implicit bias has become a familiar term as part of national conversations about race, not everyone wants to talk about it — and some communities, parents and school board members have fought to ban bias training and education.

But visitor response to the Bias Inside Us has been "very positive," said Marquette Folley, content director at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

"It has allowed a kind of safe space to just look at these ideas, understand how they impact individuals personally and impact the person for instance, during the exhibition, and allow them to open up a bit of light, and use that," Folley said.

"It doesn't condemn — it simply wants to inform, engage, encourage and include."