‘Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People’ by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
The Washington Post
By Matthew Hutson
What if we’re not the magnanimous people we think we are? That seems to be the conclusion of the past few decades of social psychology research. Freud stuck a dagger in the comforting idea of complete, conscious self-awareness, but experimental findings suggest that not only do we not know ourselves, if we did, we might not invite ourselves over for dinner.
This research takes Freud’s dagger into our vanity and twists it. One of the greatest sources of torque is what’s called the Implicit Association Test, a computer-based assessment that susses out unconscious biases. One version, the Race IAT, reveals that 75 percent of its takers, including some African Americans, have an implicit preference for white people over black people. The story of the IAT, and of prejudice in general, is told in the accessible and authoritative “Blind Spot” by Mahzarin R. Banaji, one of the test’s chief developers, and Anthony G. Greenwald, the researcher who created it in 1994.
Before reading on, I suggest that you join millions of others and take a test yourself. Go to implicit.harvard.edu and click on “Demonstration.” You’ll have a choice of a dozen or so tests (included are Weight, Age and Race IATs), but not before reading a disclaimer: “If you are unprepared to encounter interpretations that you might find objectionable, please do not proceed further.” The glint of the knife.
Objects in Mirror are More Biased than They Appear
Bookpage, February Issue
By Pete Croatto
Most of us would like to believe that we’re free-thinking, fair-minded folks who treat everyone equally. In this age of political correctness and diversity, that’s built into the code of everyday life. There’s proof. Americans elected an African-American president—twice.
Yet, according to Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald, authors of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, such gestures don’t atone for the various “mindbugs” we possess: “ingrained habits” that dictate how we perceive and react to, well, everything around us.
That I can summarize the book so easily is a credit to the authors, longtime psychology professors at Harvard University (Banaji) and the University of Washington (Greenwald), who complement their data with straightforward explanations and examples, whether it’s real-life stories or famous “Seinfeld” episodes. The result is a riveting book steeped in research that feels personal, sometimes uncomfortably so.
Blindspot’s first moment of clarity comes when you take the authors’ much-discussed Implicit Association Tests (IATs), especially the one on race. You may find that you’re not as enlightened as you believe. (A 2009 meta-analysis of 184 studies showed that “the race IAT predicted racially discriminatory behavior.”) By allowing us to participate in the science—as I did—and not just digest data, Banaji and Greenwald capture our attention. And what we learn is fascinating. Examples: Stereotypes may help us navigate the world, but they can force the affected to live up (or down) to that description—which can be good and bad. Discrimination doesn’t have to involve overt acts of hatred, but can be as simple as “maintaining the status quo.” (The authors describe a doctor at a university hospital whose effort increased when he learned that his youthful-looking patient was a professor.) Automatic preferences steer us away from uncomfortable situations, which is why undertakers may have a hard time ﬁnding dates.
In this accessible and sobering book, Banaji and Greenwald dig into our soul’s deepest crevices. And that’s great. Because it turns out that before we can all get along with each other, we need to work on ourselves.
Excerpt from Amazon Vine Reviews
By Todd Kashdan
The authors are the world leading experts on the rapid, non-conscious judgments that people make about other people and themselves. Measures of these automatic/implicit/non-conscious mental processes increased exponentially as a result of their groundbreaking work. Readers unfamiliar with their research are offered a number of different tests where they can assess their own hidden biases. I suspect many readers will be surprised, intrigued, and entertained by these assessment devices. They add a new dimension to understanding the subtleties of how one can be vehement about liberal egalitarian values but still hold non-conscious preferences for young white heterosexual men.
The chapters are brief and the prose is fluid. There are virtually no redundancies in this small volume. Unlike most psychologists and behavioral economists, Banaji and Greenwald do not go into painstaking detail about the methodology of specific studies. Instead, they offer deep insight into why it is essential to do something other than interview or give surveys to determine a person’s social attitudes. Great detail is given on how you can assess people’s non-conscious attitudes about diverse topics such as the dangerousness of black men, the heroic savoir status of romantic partners, and the qualities of a real American.
A book that needed to be written. One that raises more questions than answers, which is exactly what I tend to look for in my scientific odyssey.
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