Implicit bias research says everybody has prejudice

Princeton professor Dr. Stacey Sinclair gives lecture about racial biases on Thursday. Emileé Edwards | Multimedia Journalist

By Sarah Pinkerton | Staff Writer

Dr. Stacey Sinclair of Princeton University came to Baylor to discuss her studies on implicit bias during her lecture titled “Prejudice in the Blink of an Eye: The Science of Racial Bias” Thursday in Hankamer Auditorium.

Sinclair first gave audience members a clear definition of “explicit bias.” She said it can be reported, one is consciously aware of it and it is controllable.

To back this up, she utilized graphs comparing the number of white people who approve the school integration of African American and white students versus white individuals who approve of federal support to make this happen. This shows that the latter number was much lower and did not change much over time.

“Researchers started thinking maybe there is more to bias than just what people are reporting, and that led to the development of measures that are thought to capture this idea of implicit bias,” Sinclair said.

This led into her defining the term “implicit bias” as measured indirectly, less of a conscious decision and more spontaneous. Sinclair described the implicit association test and had the audience join in on a demonstration of this test.

Sinclair showed photos placed in a circular formation of African American and white individuals and asked the audience to tap their left leg when they saw African American individuals and their right leg when they saw white individuals.

She then added in pleasant and unpleasant adjectives and asked audience members to tap their left leg for unpleasant words and right leg for pleasant words and tracked their patterns. She then asked audience members to switch the legs tapped and repeated the experiment.

Sinclair explained that, on average, it is harder for individuals to make the white and unpleasant word correlate than it is to make the African American and pleasant words correlate.

“You want your hands to be working a certain way and they’re just not cooperating with you, and I think that captures this idea that there might be associations that are embedded in our minds in some way that we may or may not consciously agree with,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair then discussed the prevalence of this bias in the United States and displayed data for comparing adult biases and biases in children. She said the results for children with bias is the same as it is in adults, with explicit bias decreasing as they grow older.

“There are ways to think about these biases as we interact with each other, but there are also ways to think about these biases as a community,” Sinclair said.

She ended her lecture by recommending that individuals blind themselves to group membership, make important decisions with full cognitive resources, use consistency techniques and learn about the individual.

“Your mindset matters,” Sinclair said. “It might actually simply be a matter of changing your mindset. So rather than trying to avoid messing up, try to approach these interactions with the other person in mind.”

The event was hosted by the Baylor chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest honorary society, as part of their Visiting Scholars Program.

Dr. Anne-Marie Schultz, philosophy professor and faculty member of Phi Beta Kappa, says she found out about Dr. Sinclair and thought many people on campus would enjoy hearing about the work she has done.

“[I hope attendees get] ultimately an enthusiasm to have ongoing conversations about issues of diversity on campus,” Schultz said.

The Visiting Scholars Program is a program within the national association of Phi Beta Kappa. It chooses scholars in various disciplines who then agree to give lectures at different universities and pays for their appearances.

“Everybody’s biased, and if a good strategy is to assume that one is biased, then do the best you can to prevent your biases from harming others,” Sinclair said.