Unconscious racial bias shapes whom we trust, especially with money


Share post:

Deciding whom we will trust, especially with our money, may be shaped more by unconscious racial biases than many of us would like to admit, according to new research published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

“We strive as a culture to not let race bias be a significant factor in the way we choose to do things and on an individual level, we all assume that our beliefs reflect our actions, but we have to be aware of the fact that this won’t always be the case,” says Elizabeth Phelps, a psychologist at New York University who was a co-author of the study. 

Psychologists have shown that there is a distinction between the attitudes, beliefs, and self-perceptions we consciously, or explicitly, hold, and those that we may hold without thinking about them. Sometimes these conscious and unconscious attitudes match each other — other times not. 

In Monday’s study, researchers focused on the extent to which unconscious racial biases may affect explicit preferences when we make decisions about whom to trust. Researchers measured implicit and explicit racial bias among 50 racially diverse participants using an Implicit Association Test (IAT) and questionnaires assessing self-reported racism. 

Using these results as points of comparison, researchers then asked participants to rate the “trustworthiness” of nearly 300 faces (they were shown people of many races, though only scores for blacks and whites were used in the analysis). Then they had participants play a trust-based economic reward game. Participants were shown a photo of their supposed “partner” in the game, who was either black or white.  

Unconscious Trust and Daily Decisions 

Overall, if people showed an unconscious bias toward whites, they were more likely to rate whites as trustworthy when asked, and more likely to risk more money with white partners. The same bias was true in the minority of participants who showed a pro-black bias. 

At first it might seem obvious: people who are unconsciously biased to prefer whites are going to be more likely to trust whites, and vice versa with those who prefer blacks. But the effect runs more deeply than we usually realize, said Leslie Hausmann, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. 

“Despite study after study showing that implicit bias exists, it’s still something that a lot of people don’t internalize within their own lives and behavior. There’s a reluctance to admit that in our day-to-day lives, we have this and it matters,” she said. 

The study authors have also measured this type of implicit prejudice in doctors serving minority populations, and the doctors are always shocked to realize that their unconscious bias affects what medications they prescribe to patients of different races, said Mahzarin Banaji, a co-author who is a psychologist at Harvard University. 

“This is not overwhelming evidence for racism,” says Joachim Krueger, a social psychologist at Brown University, because at a group level, there was no discrimination. In the small “society” of the study participants, blacks and whites were given practically equal ratings of trustworthiness. 

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take the individual discrepancies between unconscious thought and prejudiced action to heart, says Banaji. 

This tension between an unconscious prejudice and a conscious desire to be a tolerant person is an age-old issue. 

“Humans have always struggled with this: am I leading my daily life in such a way that my behavior lines up with the values I have? Acknowledging this bias is part of bringing our behavior in line with intentions,” Banaji said.  

Author: Courtney Hutchinson | Source: ABC News Website [April 25, 2011]



Related articles

Species speed up adaptation to beat effects of warmer oceans

Some fish species are adapting to survive environmental changes without significant genetic evolution, according to research from the...

British MP urges return of Parthenon marbles to Greece

A parliamentary move to expedite the return of the Elgin Marbles from the UK to Greece will be...

Extreme weather preceded collapse of Maya civilization

Decades of extreme weather crippled, and ultimately decimated, first the political culture and later the human population of...

The secrets of the brachiopod shell

Researchers of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have carried out the first detailed study of the molecular mechanisms responsible...

Fossils suggest Hadrosaurine dinosaurs originated in Asia

Several hundred disarticulated bones have been recovered from a large dinosaur quarry of the Upper Cretaceous Yuliangzi Formation...

How researchers can stop the plundering of cultural treasures

Illicit trade in cultural artefacts destroys historical knowledge and finances terrorism. “Professionals have to say no to authenticating...

Lebanon’s National Museum suffers flood damage

Hundreds of thousands of dollars of water damage at Lebanon’s National Museum has prompted officials to launch a...

The Sun’s intricate atmosphere in ultraviolet

This eerie coloured orb is nothing less than the life-giver of the Solar System. It is the Sun,...