Greenwald & Banaji Blindspot Hidden Biases of Good People.pdf

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Unformatted text preview: Advance Reader’s Copy — Not for Sale BLINDSPOT: HIDDEN BIASES OF GOOD PEOPLE Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald Delacorte Press This is an uncorrected eBook file. Please do not quote for publication until you check your copy against the finished book. Tentative On-Sale Date: February 12, 2013 Tentative Publication Month: February 2013 Tentative Print Price: $27.00 Tentative eBook Price: $13.99 Please note that books will not be available in stores until the above on-sale date. All reviews should be scheduled to run after that date. Publicity Contact: [email protected] (212) 782-8678 Delacorte Press An imprint of the Random House Publishing Group 1745 Broadway • New York, NY • 10019 This is an uncorrected eBook file. Please do not quote for publication until you check your copy against the finished book. Copyright © 2013 by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. DELACORTE PRESS is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc. [Permissions acknowledgments to come.] ISBN: 978-0-553-80464-5 eBook ISBN: 978-0-440-42329-4 Book design by Susan Turner For Bhaskar and Jean Revealers of blindspots The sailor cannot see the North —but knows the Needle can— EMILY DICKINSON, in a letter to a mentor, T. W. Higginson, seeking an honest evaluation of her talent (1862) CONTENTS Cover eBook Information Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Epigraph Preface 1 Mindbugs 2 Shades of Truth 3 Into the Blindspot 4 “Not That There’s Anything Wrong with That!” 5 Homo Categoricus 6 The Stealth of Stereotypes 7 Us and Them 8 Outsmarting the Machine Appendix 1 Are Americans Racist? Appendix 2 Race, Disadvantage, and Discrimination Acknowledgments Notes References About the Authors PREFACE LIKE ALL VERTEBRATES, YOU HAVE A BLIND SPOT IN EACH EYE. THIS is a small region where the optic nerve attaches to the retina. Because there are no light-sensitive cells in this region, light reaching your blind spot (scotoma) has no path to visual areas of your brain. Nevertheless, you can “see” your own blind spot by looking at the plus sign in the middle of the rectangle below with just one eye open. (You may need to take your glasses off.) Starting with the page about a foot in front of your nose, bring it closer while focusing on the plus sign. One of the black discs (the one on the same side as your open eye) will disappear at some point when the page is about six inches away, and will reappear as you bring the page closer still. The moment of disappearance tells you when light from that disc is falling on your open eye’s blind spot. Here’s a bonus: If you shift your open eye to look at the still-visible disc on the other side, the plus sign will disappear! You may have also noticed a strange occurrence at the spot where the disc lies. When the disc disappeared, it left no blank spot in the grid background. Your brain did something interesting—it filled in the scotoma with something that made sense, a continuation of the same grid that you could see everywhere else in the framing rectangle. A much more dramatic form of blindness occurs in the pathological condition called blindsight, which involves damage to the brain’s visual cortex. Patients with this damage show the striking behavior of accurately reaching for and grasping an object placed in front of them, while having no conscious visual experience of the object. If you placed a hammer before the patient and asked, “Do you see something before you?” the patient would answer, “No, I don’t,” but when asked to just reach for and grasp the hammer, she would do so as accurately as if she could see. This happens because the condition of blindsight leaves intact subcortical retina-to-brain pathways that suffice to guide behavior, even in the absence of the conscious experience of seeing the hammer. We understand both the retinal blind spot and clinical blindsight as metaphors that help in understanding thoughts and feelings of which we are not aware, but which nevertheless guide our behavior. The hidden-bias blindspot of this book’s title has some features of both the retinal blind spot and blindsight. Like the retinal blind spot you experienced, we normally have no awareness of hidden biases. And like the dramatic phenomenon of clinical blindsight, hidden biases are capable of guiding our behavior without our being at all aware of this guidance. Hidden biases of the sort we find interesting can cause us to judge and act toward others in favorable or unfavorable ways that come from unrecognized feelings and beliefs about the groups to which people belong. In talking with many people about hidden biases, we have discovered that most find it simply unbelievable that their behavior might be guided in this fashion, without their awareness. Our main aim in this book is to make clear why scientists now regard this blindspot as fully believable. Convincing readers of this is no simple challenge. How can we show the existence of something in our own minds that is hidden from our own awareness? Just as the rectangle with the two black discs allows us to “see” the otherwise hidden retinal blind spot, a device called the Implicit Association Test has enabled us to discover the contents of hiddenbias blindspots. Even better than the demonstration of the retinal blind spot, which allows us to know that we have a blind spot but not much more, the Implicit Association Test (IAT for short) lets us look into the hidden-bias blindspot and discover what it contains. It is not often that scientists can learn something about their own minds while doing their research, but we have been the beneficiaries of such experiences. In addition to being a scientifically valuable device that we and many others have used in research for the past seventeen years, the IAT has also confronted us personally with some unwelcome, insight-provoking experiences—bringing us face-to-face with the contents of our own blindspots. In this book we give readers the opportunity to likewise experience the contents of their own blindspots. Here is a brief overview of what’s to be found in this book. We begin with “Mindbugs” (Chapter 1), which sets the stage for understanding hidden-bias blindspots. In it, we show how humans routinely use available information around them without being aware either that they are doing this or of how unthinkingly they are doing it. With prove-it-to-yourself demonstrations (a favorite method of ours) that engage your eyes and your mind, we demonstrate biases to be unwanted consequences of mental adaptations that may have been evolutionarily helpful in our species’ past. In “Shades of Truth” (Chapter 2), we lay a basis for understanding why we want to move well beyond long-established research methods that rely on verbal answers to researchers’ questions. We lay out several varieties of “untruths” (lies) that occur in the process of answering questions. These include routine self-deceptions that keep us from recognizing truths about ourselves. Most of the untruths we describe in Chapter 2 are not deliberate attempts to deceive. Rather, they are part of an armory of mental strategies that humans routinely deploy with no active thought about what they are doing. A crucial moment in the book arrives when we dive “Into the Blindspot” (Chapter 3), where you will have the chance to discover hidden biases of your own. This is where we present and explain the IAT—the invention that made this book possible. At the website implicit.harvard.edu anyone can sample multiple IATs with complete anonymity, adding to the 14 million tests that have already been sampled. In Chapters 4–7, we explore the psychology of hidden biases by studying how the feelings and beliefs we have toward others are shaped by our feelings and beliefs about the groups to which they belong. As in Chapters 1–3, we use demonstrations that show how mental operations of which we remain unaware can influence judgments and actions in many situations of everyday life. Chapter 4 takes up how our positive and negative feelings toward other people are influenced by their age, race, ethnicity, sex, social class, and occupation. Chapter 5 describes how the human mind uses these categories to create a huge mental library that rapidly retrieves stereotypical knowledge that we unthinkingly apply to any new person we encounter. Chapter 6 extends this work to describe how stereotypes operate outside of awareness, even when we personally give no credence to those stereotypes and may even reject them. Chapter 7 looks at the distinction of “us” and “them” to understand how we act differently toward in-group members (people who share group membership with us) than toward out-group members, and how this treatment varies depending on whether or not you belong to your society’s dominant group. By the start of Chapter 8 (“Outsmarting the Machine”) the reader has already encountered many indications that hidden biases can produce unintended damages—interestingly, not only to others but also to oneself. Chapter 8 takes up the question that is central to the goal of preventing the unintended consequences of hidden biases: Are there effective ways to eliminate hidden biases or, if not, then to neutralize them? The surge of recent attention to hidden biases was preceded by seven decades of scientific research on non-hidden forms of bias—in other words, prejudice. By far the most intensively scientifically investigated form of prejudice in the U.S. has been (and continues to be) racial prejudice against African Americans. In writing about hidden biases, it was essential for us to take into account what that long history of research has revealed about race prejudice. We do this in two appendices. The first (“Are Americans Racist?”) traces the history of race prejudice in America, in the process addressing a controversial question: Is American racism disappearing, or has it taken on a different, less visible form? The second appendix (“Race, Disadvantage, and Discrimination”) describes what is scientifically known about causes of the lower average status of Black than White Americans. Is race discrimination the cause? We two met in Columbus, Ohio, in 1980 when Mahzarin arrived from India as a PhD student to work with Tony at Ohio State University. Neither of us is still at Ohio State, but we both remain strongly identified with that institution because we are aware of the role its social psychology PhD program played in our scientific development. The 1980s was a decade in which significant changes were unfolding in our special area of social psychology, called social cognition. Psychology was on the verge of what can now—thirty years later—be recognized as a revolution that introduced new ways of understanding how much of human judgment and behavior are guided by processes that operate outside conscious awareness and conscious control. The psychological revolution that started in the 1980s was triggered by new methods—ones that could reveal potent mental processes that were not accessible to introspection. This work was happening in studies of how people perceive and remember. We were intrigued by the possibilities represented by the new indirect measures of the mind, and we wondered if those methods could be extended to reveal and explain previously unseen influences on social behavior. Looking back to that period, we can see that we were fortunate to be swept into the vortex of this revolution. Even though the surge of research on unconscious functioning has not yet peaked, it has already produced significant changes in how human behavior is understood. A quarter century ago, most psychologists believed that human behavior was primarily guided by conscious thoughts and feelings. Nowadays the majority will readily agree that much of human judgment and behavior is produced with little conscious thought. A quarter century ago, the word “unconscious” was barely to be found in the scientific journals that we read and in which we published our research. Nowadays, the term “unconscious cognition” appears frequently, although it was surpassed in the 1990s by a related term, “implicit cognition.” A quarter century ago, psychologists’ methods for understanding the mind relied mostly on subjects’ verbal reports about their mental states and intentions. Nowadays, research methods are much more diverse, including many that do not at all rely on research subjects’ introspective reports of the contents of their minds or the causes of their behavior. It was with some trepidation that we referred to the “good people” in this book’s subtitle. Even though—like almost everyone else—we have our opinions about what constitutes goodness in people, we have no special competence (let alone the moral authority) to say who is good and who is not. By “good people” we mean something specific; we refer to all people who intend well and who strive to align their behavior with their good intentions. We are not at all reluctant to apply in our own lives what we have learned scientifically about the forces now understood to direct our behavior. However, in keeping with our intention not to impose our own values on readers, we have sought to avoid prescriptive statements about how the scientific findings we describe should be put to use in everyday behavior. There is, however, one domain in which it seems entirely proper for our values to guide not only our own behavior but also how we expect others to evaluate the conclusions we reach in this book—our scientific values. Scientific values serve as our guideposts in deciding what research findings warrant presentation as established empirical fact and what theories should be considered valid. A very relevant scientific value in this regard is caution—we need quite a bit of evidence to let empirical findings and scientific theories make the transition from being ideas that we find plausible to being ideas that we are willing to present as established findings or theories. Another important value for us is skepticism, which includes the willingness to abandon, in the face of opposing evidence, ideas that presently exceed our caution threshold for acceptance. Like all scientists, we do not have the luxury of believing that what now appears true and valid will always be so. Inevitably, future knowledge will exceed and replace present understanding. If we have done a good job, it may take a few decades for that to happen to the conclusions reached in this book. Among the conclusions that we expect to survive for a while is the idea that hidden-bias blindspots are widespread and that even good people have them. 1 Mindbugs IT IS AN ORDINARY DAY ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS. STUDENTS AND professors of experimental psychology have filed into a lecture hall to listen to a distinguished visiting scientist explain how our minds perceive the physical world. Nothing about his tweed jacket and unkempt hair suggests the challenge he is about to deliver. A few minutes into the lecture, he says matter-of-factly, “As you can plainly see, the two tabletops are exactly the same in shape and size.” Shuffling in their seats, some in the audience frown while others smile in embarrassment because, as anyone can plainly see, he is dead wrong. Some tilt their heads from side to side, to test if a literal shift in perspective will help. Others wonder whether they should bother staying for the lecture if this nonsense is just the start. The nonbelievers are caught short, though, when the speaker proceeds to show the truth of his audacious claim. Using an overhead projector, he takes a transparent plastic sheet containing only a single red parallelogram, lays it over the tabletop on the left, and shows that it fits perfectly. He then rotates the plastic sheet clockwise, and places the parallelogram over the tabletop on the right; it fits perfectly there as well. An audible gasp fills the hall as the speaker moves the red frame back and forth, and the room breaks into laugher. With nothing more than a faint smile the speaker goes on to complete his lecture on how the eye receives, the brain registers, and the mind interprets visual information. Unconvinced? You can try the test yourself. Find some paper thin enough to trace the outline of one of the tabletops, and then move the outline over to the other tabletop. If you don’t find that the shape of the first tabletop fits identically onto the second tabletop, there can be only one explanation—you’ve botched the tracing job, because the table surfaces are precisely the same. But how can this be? VISUAL MINDBUGS YOU, LIKE US, have just succumbed to a famous visual illusion, one that produces an error in the mind’s ability to perceive a pair of objects as they actually are. We will call such errors mindbugs—ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason, and make decisions.1 The psychologist Roger Shepard, a genius who has delighted in the art of confounding, created this illusion called Turning the Tables. When we look at the images of the two table surfaces, our retinas do, in fact, receive them as identical in shape and size. In other words, the retina “sees” the tabletops quite accurately. However, when the eye transmits that information to the brain’s visual cortex, where depth is perceived, the trouble begins. The incorrect perception that the two tabletops are strikingly different in shape occurs effortlessly, because the brain automatically converts the 2-D image that exists both on the page and on the retina into a 3-D interpretation of the tabletop shapes as they must be in the natural world. The automatic processes of the mind, in other words, impose the third dimension of depth onto this scene. And the conscious, reflective processes of the mind accept the illusion unquestioningly. So much so that when encountering the speaker’s assertion that the tabletop outlines are the same, the conscious mind’s first reaction is to consider it to be sheer nonsense. Natural selection has endowed the minds of humans and other large animals to operate successfully in a three-dimensional world. Having no experience in a world other than a 3-D one, the brain we have continues to perform its conscious perceptual corrections of the tables’ dimensions to make them appear as they would in the traditional 3-D world.2 Contrary to expectation, this error reflects not a weakness of adaptation but rather a triumph, for Shepard’s tabletops highlight the success of a visual system that has adapted effectively to the combination of a two-dimensional retina inside the eye and a threedimensional world outside. The mind’s automatic understanding of the data is so confident that, as Shepard puts it, “any knowledge or understanding of the illusion we may gain at the intellectual level remains virtually powerless to diminish the magnitude of the illusion.” Take a look at the tables again. The knowledge you now have (that the tables have identical surfaces) has no corrective effect in diminishing the illusion!3 Disconcerting as this experience is, it serves as a vivid illustration of a signal property of the mind—it does a great deal of its work automatically, unconsciously, and unintentionally. Mention of the mind’s unconscious operation may summon up for you a visual memory of the bearded, cigar-smoking Sigmund Freud, who rightly gets credit for having brought the term unconscious into everyday use. However, an understanding of the unconscious workings of the mind has changed greatly in the century since Freud’s pathbreaking observations. Freud portrayed an omniscient unconscious with complex motives that shape important aspects of human mind and behavior—from dreams to memories to madness, and ultimately to civiliza...
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