The Power of Unconscious Bias

The Power of Unconscious Bias

A New York Times article swiftly summarizes psychological research into unconscious racial bias. Harvard Professor Sendhil Mullainathan performed some of the experiments, and describes others. Some discrimination is consciously practiced, although less often verbalized than before. At least when the verbalization is in person; racist comments on relatively anonymous social media sites are still pretty common.

But this article looks at the problem of people who intend no discrimination, even hiring managers who state that they believe in diversity. Yet the studies all show that resumes with stereotypically African-American names received fewer responses than those with stereotypically Caucasian names. The phenomenon is repeated with rental opportunities, medical treatment, and responses by legislators.

Keeping this issue in mind can help in decisionmaking, perhaps make us less inclined to take our first inclination when choosing between two people for an opportunity we have to offer.  It should also make us less inclined to scoff at people who remind us that racial bias is alive and well. Even if it is active only in the unconscious, it still wields power.

Or, as the Pope put it recently, “Inequality is the root of social evil.” 

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