Thursday, May 01, 2008

Implicit bias

Siri Carpenter has longish article in the Scientific American on implicit bias or, as the title puts it, the Bigot in your Brain. As the following examples illustrate, implicit bias is a pretty insidious stuff:

Implicit biases can infect more deliberate decisions, too. In a 2007 study Rutgers University psychologists Laurie A. Rudman and Richard D. Ashmore found that white people who exhibited greater implicit bias toward black people also reported a stronger tendency to engage in a variety of discriminatory acts in their everyday lives. These included avoiding or excluding blacks socially, uttering racial slurs and jokes, and insulting, threatening or physically harming black people.

In a second study reported in the same paper, Rudman and Ashmore set up a laboratory scenario to further examine the link between implicit bias against Jews, Asians and blacks and discriminatory behavior toward each of those groups. They asked research participants to examine a budget proposal ostensibly under consideration at their university and to make recommendations for ­allocating funding to student orga­nizations. Students who exhibited greater implicit bias toward a given minority group tended to suggest budgets that discriminated more against organizations devoted to that group’s interests.

Implicit bias may sway hiring decisions. In a recent unpublished field experiment economist Dan-Olof Rooth of the University of Kalmar in Sweden sent corporate employers identical job applications on behalf of fictional male candidates—under either Arab-Muslim or Swedish names. Next he tracked down the 193 human resources professionals who had evaluated the applications and measured their implicit biases concerning Arab-Muslim men. Rooth discovered that the greater the employer’s bias, the less likely he or she was to call an applicant with a name such as Mohammed or Reza for an interview. Employers’ explicit attitudes toward Muslims did not correspond to their decision to interview (or fail to consider) someone with a Muslim name, possibly because many recruiters were reluctant to reveal those attitudes.

Unconscious racial bias may also infect critical medical decisions. In a 2007 study Banaji and her Harvard colleagues presented 287 internal medicine and emergency care physicians with a photograph and brief clinical vignette describing a middle-aged patient—in some cases black and in others white—who came to the hospital complaining of chest pain. Most physicians did not acknowledge racial bias, but on average they showed (on an implicit bias test) a moderate to large implicit antiblack bias. And the greater a physician’s racial bias, the less likely he or she was to give a black patient clot-busting thrombolytic drugs.