Equality Lab as a non-profit has the mission to reduce implicit bias linked to race, gender, age, sexual orientation and religious belief.
Our first mission focuses on implicit racial bias. Here are a few data points (definitions, statistics and results from peer-reviewed scientific articles) that explain why.
Defining Bias, Prejudice, Discrimination
Basic Terminological Distinctions
Bias is an inclination for or against a person, idea or thing, especially in a way considered to be unfair. Prejudice is a preconceived opinion that is not based on actual experience or reason. Bias can be positive or negative, whereas prejudice mostly involves having negative attitudes towards another party. Bias results in unfairness, while prejudice often results in discrimination.
Implicit vs. Explicit bias
Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.
The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.
In their 2013 book called ” Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People”, Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald use the metaphor of the “blindspot” to capture that portion of the mind that houses hidden biases and to question to what extent social groups – without our awareness or conscious control – shape our likes and dislikes, our judgments about people’s character, abilities, and potential.
These implicit associations are generally believed to develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages. The media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations. Social psychologist Nilanjana Dasgupta argues that exposure to commonly held attitudes about social groups permeate our minds even without our active consent through “hearsay, media exposure, and by passive observation of who occupies valued roles and devalued roles in the community”
A Few Key Characteristics Of Implicit Biases
- Implicit biases are pervasive and robust. Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.
- Implicit and explicit biases are generally regarded as related but distinct mental constructs. They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.
- The implicit associations we hold arise outside of conscious awareness; therefore, they do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.
- We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup. This categorization (ingroup vs. outgroup) is often automatic and unconscious.
- Implicit biases have real-world effects on behavior.
- Implicit biases are malleable; therefore, the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned and replaced with new mental associations.
Bias And Discrimination — Key Data Points
Racial-Based Discrimination in the US
About half of Hispanics in the U.S. (52%) and 71% of Blacks say they have experienced discrimination or have been treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity, according to a newly released Pew Research Center survey on race in America.
Implicit Racial Bias in the US
The computerized Implicit Association Test, which has been taken by over two million people online at the website Project Implicit, has shown that most white Americans demonstrate bias against blacks, even if they are not aware of or able to control it.
This map (source: Project Implicit) shows the states with the highest level of implicit bias (high number, red) and lowest level of implicit bias (low number, blue). Gray represents states with a middle amount of implicit bias; Michigan is the median state.
Psychologist Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington, who created the Implicit Association Test in 1995, reminds us that this map illustrates results of a test taken by volunteers for the online IAT. “These volunteers are younger, more educated, more politically liberal, and more female than the U.S. population as a whole.”
To conclude, the map above shows that white people in every U.S. state are biased. Their mean scores vary by state, but participants from the median state, Michigan, show an average, positive IAT score of 0.402. According to Kaiyuan Xu, a data analyst for Project Implicit, a score of .35 is the “cutoff point between ‘moderately prefer white’ and ‘strongly prefer white.'” Extensive research has uncovered a pro-White/anti-Black bias in most Americans, regardless of their own racial group.
Where Do We Need To Reduce Implicit Racial Bias?
Several demographics and social impact areas can be targeted and would benefit from such interventions, among which medical staff and caregivers in hospitals, police officers, judges and legal staff, etc.
The Racial Empathy Gap
Researchers have shed light on the “racial empathy gap”. Implicit racial bias makes it challenging to empathize with people from a different ethnicity. Researchers at the University of Milano-Bicocca showed participants (all of whom were white) video clips of a needle or an eraser touching someone’s skin. They measured participants’ reactions through skin conductance tests—basically whether their hands got sweaty—which reflect activity in the pain matrix of the brain. If we see someone in pain, it triggers the same network in our brains that’s activated when we are hurt. But people do not respond to the pain of others equally. In this experiment, when viewers saw white people receiving a painful stimulus, they responded more dramatically than they did for black people.
The consequences of this racial empathy gap range from unequal pain management in hospitals to unfair treatment in the criminal justice system.
Let us take a look at the different social areas which implicit racial bias is having a strong impact.
Studies have established both the presence of implicit racial biases in health care professionals, as well as extensive evidence that unconscious racial biases can lead to differential treatment of patients by race.
Research has demonstrated that people, including medical personnel, tend to assume black people feel less pain than white people. Researchers asked participants to rate how much pain they would feel in 18 common scenarios. The participants rated experiences such as stubbing a toe or getting shampoo in their eyes on a four-point scale (where 1 is “not painful” and 4 is “extremely painful”). Then they rated how another person (a randomly assigned photo of an experimental “target”) would feel in the same situations. Sometimes the target was white, sometimes black. In each experiment, the researchers found that white participants, black participants, and nurses and nursing students assumed that blacks felt less pain than whites.
Such a racial-based bias has caused inequalities in pain medication. Twenty years ago, a pioneering study of this disparity revealed that minorities with recurrent or metastatic cancer were less likely to have adequate analgesia. Racial disparities in pain management have been recorded in the treatment of migraines and back pain, cancer care in the elderly, and children with orthopedic fractures.
The racial empathy gap has deep consequences on the US criminal justice system.
A 2002 experimental study assessed the impact of racial bias on jury decisions. Researchers asked 90 white students to act as jurors and evaluate a larceny case with defendants that were both black and white. Some jurors were asked to imagine themselves in the defendant’s position and have empathy for the latter. Other jurors were asked to simply remain objective. Ultimately, the jurors gave black defendants harsher sentences (4.17 years) than whites (3.04 years)—even in the high-empathy condition (3.26 years versus 2.20 years, respectively)—and felt less empathy for black defendants.
In 2013, George Zimmerman was charged with the murder of Trayvon Martin. On July 13, 2013, a jury acquitted him. On February 24, 2015, the United States Department of Justice announced that “there was not enough evidence for a federal hate crime prosecution.” In an article published in the North Carolina Law Review, Cynthia Lee discusses the importance of making race salient during self-defense cases so as to counter the activation and influence of implicit racial biases. Her proposal is to make “jurors aware of racial issues that can bias their decision-making, like the operation of racial stereotypes”.
A number of studies have placed officers in shooting simulators, and most have shown a greater propensity for shooting black civilians relative to whites
Here is a non-exhaustive list of unarmed black people killed by the police over the past 2 years.
April 30, 2014: Dontre Hamilton (Milwaukee)
July 17, 2014: Eric Garner (New York)
Aug. 5, 2014: John Crawford III (Dayton, Ohio)
Aug. 9, 2014: Michael Brown Jr. (Ferguson, Missouri)
Aug. 11, 2014: Ezell Ford (Florence, California)
Aug. 12, 2014: Dante Parker (Victorville, California)
Nov. 13, 2014: Tanisha Anderson (Cleveland)
Nov. 20, 2014: Akai Gurley (Brooklyn, New York)
Nov. 22, 2014: Tamir Rice (Cleveland)
Dec. 2, 2014: Rumain Brisbon (Phoenix)
Dec. 30, 2014: Jerame Reid (Bridgeton, New Jersey)
March 6, 2015: Tony Robinson (Madison, Wisconsin)
March 31, 2015: Phillip White (Vineland, New Jersey)
April 2, 2015: Eric Harris (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
April 4, 2015: Walter Scott (North Charleston, South Carolina)
April 19, 2015: Freddie Gray (Baltimore)
July 5, 2016: Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge)
September 16, 2016: Terence Crutcher (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
September 20, 2016: Keith Lamont Scott (Charlotte, North Carolina)
In the 2015 President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, here is one of the recommendations that is given: “Peace Officer Standards and Trainings should ensure both basic recruit and in-service training incorporates content around recognizing and confronting implicit bias and cultural responsiveness. As the nation becomes more diverse, it will become increasingly important that police officers be sensitive to and tolerant of differences.”
At Ferguson Rally, September 2016
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 For a more in-depth presentation of implicit bias, see the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/
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 President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. 2015. Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.